‘Arab women need not apply’

Israel’s finance minister was accused last week of trying to deflect attention from discriminatory policies keeping many of the country’s Arab families in poverty by blaming their economic troubles on what he described as Arab society’s opposition to women working.

A recent report from Israel’s National Insurance Institute showed that half of all Arab families in Israel are classified as poor compared with just 14 per cent of Jewish families.

Yuval Steinitz, the finance minister, told a conference on employment discrimination this month that the failure of Arab women to participate in the workforce was damaging Israel’s economy. Eighteen per cent of Arab women work, and only half of them full time, compared with at least 55 per cent of Jewish women.

He attributed the low employment rate to “cultural obstacles, traditional frameworks and the belief that Arab women have to remain in their home towns”, adding that such restrictions were characteristic of all Arab societies.

But researchers and women’s groups pointed out that employment of Arab women in Israel is lower than almost anywhere else in the Arab world, including such employment blackspots for women as Saudi Arabia and Oman.

“Most Arab women want to work, including a large number of female graduates, but the government has refused to tackle the many and severe obstacles that have been put in their way,” said Sawsan Shukha of Women Against Violence, a Nazareth-based organisation.

That assessment was supported by a survey this month revealing that 83 per cent of Israeli businesses in the main professions – including advertising, law, banking, accountancy and the media – admitted being opposed to hiring Arab graduates, whether men or women.

Yousef Jabareen, an urban planner at the Technion technical university in Haifa, who has conducted one of the largest surveys on Arab women’s employment in Israel, said the problems Arab women faced were unique.

“In Israel they face a double discrimination, both because they are women and because they are Arabs,” he said.

“The average in the Arab world [for female employment] is about 40 per cent. Only women in Gaza, the West Bank and Iraq – where there are exceptional circumstances – have lower rates of employment than Arab women in Israel. That gap needs explaining and the answers aren’t to be found where the minister is looking.”

He said a wide range of factors hold Arab women back, many of them the result of discriminatory policies by successive governments to prevent the 1.3-million Arab minority, which comprises one-fifth of Israel’s population, from benefiting from economic development.

These included widespread discrimination in hiring policies by both private employers and the government; a long-standing failure to locate industrial zones and factories in Arab communities; a severe lack of state-supported childcare services compared with Jewish communities; a shortage of public transport in Arab areas that prevented women reaching places of work, and a lack of training courses aimed at Arab women.

According to a study by Women Against Violence, 40 per cent of Arab women with degrees are unable to find work. When interviewed, Mr Jabareen said, 78 per cent of non-working women blamed their situation on a lack of job opportunities.

Maali Abu Roumi, 24, from the town of Tamra in northern Israel, has been looking for a job as a social worker since she finished training two years ago. She said cash-strapped Arab schools, unlike Jewish schools, could not afford to employ a social worker, and that Israel’s Arab minority lacked the equivalent of the welfare institutions and foundations funded by wealthy overseas Jews that offered work to many Jewish social workers.

“Most of the Jews I studied with have found work, while very few of the Arabs on my course have been employed,” she said. “When a job comes up, it’s usually part time and there are dozens of applicants.”

The Alternative Planning Centre, an Arab organisation that studies land use in Israel, reported in 2007 that only 3.5 per cent of the country’s industrial zones were in Arab communities. Most attracted such small businesses as workshops for car repairs or carpentry that offered few opportunities for women.

“Israel’s private sector is almost entirely closed to Arab women because of discriminatory practices by employers who prefer to employ Jews,” Mr Jabareen said. He added that the government had failed to provide leadership: among governmental workers, less than two per cent were Arab women, despite repeated pledges by ministers to increase Arab recruitment.

Ms Shukha said: “The civil service is a major employer, but many of these jobs are in the centre of the country, in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, a long way from the north where most Arab citizens live.”

She noted that there were no regular buses from Nazareth, the largest Arab town in the country, to Jerusalem. “The transport situation is even worse in the villages where most Arab women live.”

In addition, she said, most could not travel long distances to find work because of the scarcity of child-care provision. Only 25 government-run daycare centres have been established for preschool children in Arab communities out of 1,600 operating across the country. Ms Shaukha also criticised the trade and industry ministry, saying that, although it had invested heavily in training for Jewish women, only six per cent of Arab women were attending courses, and then mostly for sewing and secretarial work.

Mr Jabareen said Arab men faced massive discrimination, too, but found work because they filled a need in the economy by doing hard manual labour that most Jews refused, often travelling long distances to work on construction sites. “Women simply don’t have that option,” he said. “They cannot do that kind of work and they need to stay close to their communities because they have responsibilities in the home.”

Another massacre, absent a terrorist Muslim

We still don’t know who killed four young police officers as they gathered at a local eating establishment during their shift in Washington state.  We do know they were killed as they sat talking, eating or comparing notes together sometime during their shift early Sunday morning by a lone gunman, and typically as yet, no link to “terrorism” is known.  That’s an interesting part of the American vernacular these days, as if to imply the deaths of these officers is either easier to take or more heinous if it was done by a terrorist versus a non-terrorist.  We have become used to such insertions into language regarding death….it’s coded to tell us whether we should recoil or merely shrug our shoulders and thank God it wasn’t us; for example the use of the term ‘hate crime’ which has racial overtunes, is the trigger for whether we should really reflect on not just the death of an individual but the status of where we are as a society versus the everyday violent deaths of  scores of people as things beyond our control.

So we now precede reports of violent deaths, and especially those against symbols of state power with whether the perpetrator was a terrorist or not.  Usually, as we have come to expect, that designation is supposed to tell us if the criminal is a “Muslim”, because as the common perception goes, every terrorist is a Muslim, and therefore worthy of the entire population’s ire and revulsion.  Unfortunately, this allows us to more easily accept violent death, while at the same time focusing our anger on the perpetrator of the crime and not on the nature of the crime itself.  If it’s a non-terrorist crime we tend to focus less on either the victim or the criminal whereas for “terrorist” related crimes we are obsessed with both in an entirely unhealthy way as a society.  This is the cheapening of human life through the politicization of “terror” and it serves pundits, policy wonks and others well as they shape policy for all of us around the value terror gives to human life, but it doesn’t help us much when we are left with the senseless slaying of people like the four officers above.  I won’t bother to get into the blame game and say that the proliferation of handguns in a violent society is responsible or that Mike Huckabee is responsible for the deaths of these officers because he let the “person of interest” everyone is now looking for out of an Arkansas prison prematurely.  That was the rational that sunk a Michael Dukakis campaign in 1988…the old Willie Horton ads, remember them?  It’s interesting to see how even now Huckabee, who might be looking to run in 2012 is back pedaling on the import of his commutation by saying, ‘should he (the person of interest) be found responsible for this horrible tragedy, it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington state’….a typical political statement if there ever was one.  At some point, the buck has to stop being passed, the race/ethnicity of the perpetrator becomes insignificant and the application of the rule of law becomes paramount absent these “mitigating social circumstances” of which governor released him, the ethnic/religious persuasion, the gender, etc, etc, ad nauseum…..  In fact the American system supposedly took all that into account when it said all people are equal under the law so that regardless who commits the heinous act of murder, the equal application of the rule insures justice.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be right?


Freedom of speech? When it comes to Israel, no!

During the heyday of the cartoons featuring a terrorist prophet of Islam, with a turban in the form of a bomb, we were told free speech was necessary even if it upset the sensitivities of people; in order to live in a more perfect union it was necessary to uphold the principles on which this country were founded than it was to address people’s feelings.  Yes, I know that the cartoons of the Prophet of Islam were featured in a Danish newspaper, but even they the Danish were seen as a bulwark against giving in to terrorism and they had the right as we do here in America to freedom of speech and should not be intimidated from or waive that right.  Yeah…that’s what we were told when it came to dealing with Muslims’ reactions to news they might not deem pleasant.

However, such openness to free speech is not seen in much the same positive or necessary light when it comes to speech or criticism about the state of Israel, as the editors and owners of The Berkeley Daily Planet have found out.  A quick look at the website for the paper, http://www.berkeleydaily.org/issue/2009-11-28, reveals a paper that seems interested in its local affairs, from the closing of a post office location to citizen displeasure at the response of the local university to the financial crisis, but some people, notably Jim Sinkinson of Infocom Group, a media relations company and John Gertz of dpwatchdog.com  seem to think the paper should please the Jewish citizens of the Bay area by printing stories they consider non-offensive towards the state of Israel.  Not exactly the definition of freedom of speech, nor the role of a publication.  In fact almost every group in the world would make that demand, that any publication should print only those items that meet the emotional needs of that particular group and at the same time not offend group sensitivities.  Usually the answer to such a request is simply “nuts”, a free press means it reports what it wants to report and it the media outlet determines what is responsible and reasonable as it pertains to its readership/viewers/listeners and their values.  Fortunately, the editor of the Daily Planet, Becky O’Malley, has said essentially the same thing when defending her paper against the charges leveled by the two who want to limit her papers’ right to publish articles or columns critical of Israel.  In fact, the classiest response I’ve seen to date to her critics is quintessentially free speech in nature, ‘they (her detractors) could start their own paper.’  That alone should be enough to silence her critics,  for in throwing down that challenge O’Malley has defended her right to free speech and a free press and encouraged them to do the same even in opposition to her.