It’s not easy to be a member of a minority group in the
State of Israel. The International Day
for Tolerance is a wonderful opportunity to remind everyone who, due to the
rapid pace of life here, has forgotten this unpleasant fact.
Police profiling of people of Ethiopian extraction and of
those belonging to other minority groups in the population - “migrants,” as
they have been termed by the Police Commissioner - will certainly not
stop. National investment in
infrastructure for disadvantaged Arab villages is not about to create wonders,
not even in the framework of the upcoming bi-annual budget, perhaps in order to
make it difficult for local residents to throng to the ballot boxes. The base from which the future is supposed to
blossom – the Ministry of Education – has failed systematically for years in
its fight against racism and in its attempt to promote a shared life and
tolerance (according to the sharply critical recent report from the State
Comptroller). In short, and to the
point, we are definitely not a good example of social solidarity.
But, this International Day for Tolerance does not have to
be a time just to complain and to flood the air with suffering. I see in it also a wonderful opportunity to
remind people that not everything is so bad here. Look, for example, at the positive direction
in which the labor market is striding.
According to official data from the Ministry of Finance,
during the first half of 2016, there was a sharp rise in the employment
percentages of Ultra-Orthodox and Arab men, two groups which headed the
unemployment tables for years. It’s too
bad that we can’t say the same about the employment of Ultra-Orthodox and Arab
women, despite the fact that there is active work being done by the government
in this area, following on the critique of the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD). The
plan of the Ministry of the Economy, costing about 150 million shekels and
begun already a few months ago, is meant to significantly improve this
situation. Under its auspices, a company
that takes in workers from these sectors will be entitled to 30 months of government
assistance in funding their salaries. The
assistance that the government is offering amounts to about 27.5% of the
monthly salary of every worker from the population designated under this
This is a wonderful program that is expected to
significantly advance the employment of women.
Just to understand the depth of the gaps and how much this program is
needed: in 2014, according to a report from the Ministry of the Economy, only
about 33% of Arab women between the ages of 25-64 were employed, in comparison
to 71% of women in the total population.
The direction is wonderful, but our finger must stay on the
pulse: will realization of the goals of this program help bring about fair
employment and shared areas of employment?
Will these areas then succeed in advancing tolerance and solidarity
between Israelis in daily life, too?
Exactly a year ago – on the 2015 International Day for
Tolerance – I visited the Berlin utopia.
We arrived in Germany, a delegation composed of men and women representing
various communities in Israel: Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, Arabs, Russian
speakers, Ethiopian immigrants, and so on.
The purpose was to learn from the human rights organizations of that
city, which today constitute a wonderful example of acceptance of others, of
everyone, with respect to their actions in the field. A beautiful picture revealed itself to
me. How varied it is there today, in
contrast to all the theories of racial purity that brought tragedies to the
world in the last century!
The labor market in Israel, despite the not-so-low unemployment
rates in Arab villages, development towns, and the periphery, and a salary that
must absolutely rise, can still be the hope for advancing a model of shared
work like this. It already exists in
reality: the Ministry of Health succeeds in awakening in us a hope that there
is another way, not just because of the success of Arab physicians, experts and
leaders in their fields, who rise to key positions in the system, but also
because the health system permits, in addition to the shared work area, an area
of shared life in hallways and in hospital rooms.
Tolerance and social solidarity are the opposite of racism
and discrimination. The difficult
conditions of the region will not permit us to be Berlin, but perhaps a repeated
and systematic airing of the problems will succeed and will help us move
forward to the goal we yearn for.
*The author is the
Director of the Coalition against Racism