Discrimination and exclusion continue

Discrimination against Arab citizens has been documented since the establishment of the State of Israel in a large number of surveys and studies. Its presence has been recognized in court rulings, government decisions, reports of the State Comptroller, and other official documents. The Or Commission found that “government attention to the Arab sector has largely been characterized by neglect and discrimination,” adding that “the establishment has not shown sufficient sensitivity to the needs of the Arab sector, and has not taken adequate action to allocate state resources in an egalitarian manner, including to this sector.” The committee recommended that the state take action to ensure genuine equality for the Arab citizens

“It is apparent from the above that the legislation on our matter is unequal and not based on clear criteria. Neither was there any disagreement before us that injury to the principle of equality raises difficulties in the constitutional aspect, particularly since the locales added in Amendment 146 did not include a single Arab locale […] Due to this similarity between the positions of the parties to the petitions, we believed that the government and the Knesset would take action to resolve the problem without the intervention of this court. Such was our belief, and indeed our hope; however, the government and the Knesset have refrained, systemically and over a period of years, from acting to resolve the matter…”

From the Supreme Court decision dated September 15, 2010 in petitions submitted by ACRI, Adalah, and ten communities concerning tax benefits provided for various communities without egalitarian, clear, and written criteria. Not a single Arab community was included in these benefits.

Discrimination against Arab citizens has been documented since the establishment of the State of Israel in a large number of surveys and studies. Its presence has been recognized in court rulings, government decisions, reports of the State Comptroller, and other official documents. The Or Commission found that “government attention to the Arab sector has largely been characterized by neglect and discrimination,” adding that “the establishment has not shown sufficient sensitivity to the needs of the Arab sector, and has not taken adequate action to allocate state resources in an egalitarian manner, including to this sector.” The committee recommended that the state take action to ensure genuine equality for the Arab citizens: “The state should initiate, develop, and operate programs to close gaps, with an emphasis on the fields of budgets, in all areas relating to education, housing, industrial development, employment, and services.”

Despite the reports and studies, however, and despite ongoing awareness among policy makers of the discrimination facing the Arab population, the gaps between Arabs and Jews in the areas mentioned by the Or Commission – including education, planning, and land – are actually widening.1 The following are a small selection of examples of figures and incidents reported in the media and in various publications.

In the field of education, which is the real key to a more equal and just future, the gaps between the Jewish and Arab populations are enormous. For example, there is a lack of some 9,000 classrooms in Arab communities. The differences are also seen within the classroom: while the average number of students per class in Jewish education is 28, in Arab education it is 32. The number of classes with more than 40 students is twice as high in the Arab sector as among the Jewish population (eight percent and four percent, respectively).2 In addition, Arab education suffers from a severe shortage of professionals, including truancy officers, educational advisors, and educational psychologists.

Despite all these problems, when a representative of the Monitoring Committee for Arab Education came to the Knesset Education Committee to participate in a discussion on the gaps in matriculation eligibility rates between the two sectors, committee chairperson MK Zevulun Orlev (Jewish Home) refused to allow him to speak. According to Orlev, “the Monitoring Committee is a political, not a professional, organization. It was established with the goal of coordinating political activities that contradict the Educational Goals Law, which requires that all students in Israel should be educated to an understanding that the State of Israel is a Jewish and democratic state.”

The Report of the Or Commission attached great importance to the subject of land, and recommended that the state act to allocate land to the Arab population in accordance with principles of equality and distributive justice. The commission determined that the state bears an obligation to allocate land to the Arab public “on the basis of egalitarian patterns and principles, as to other sectors.” However, the sphere of land and planning is still one of those in which Arabs in Israel face the gravest discrimination. In many Arab locales, the outline plans for construction are outdated and cannot meet the needs of the population. In part, this is due to bureaucratic delays. The process of approving an outline plan for an Arab locale takes, on average, three times longer than the analogous proceeding in a Jewish locale. Only 18 percent of outline plans in Arab locales were approved over the past decade, and over 40 percent are between 30 and 50 years old. In the absence of appropriate and updated outline plans, it is impossible to build new homes legally. The inevitable result is the construction of tens of thousands of homes in Arab locales without building permits, incurring the risk of demolition. There is also a shortage in the Arab sector of public buildings providing services to residents.

Discrimination is particularly evident in the staffing of public offices and in the acceptance of Arabs to various professions, particularly those enjoying high prestige, job security, and salaries. Thus, for example, only two percent of the employees of the Israel Electric Company are Arabs, and 70 percent of these are temporary workers. According to a report of the Civil Service Commission for 2009, just seven percent of government employees are Arab – less than half the proportion in the population at large. A report of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality found that just 16 (!) of the thousands of civil servants in the Negev are Arabs. A side-product of employment discrimination in the civil service is discrimination in access to services, since citizens turning to various offices are forced to cope with the absence of Arabic-speaking employees, and sometimes with the absence of forms or signs in Arabic. Thus, for example, a report by the Sikkuy association published in August 2010 found that the Ministry of Justice’s legal aid offices provide an application form in Hebrew only, thus creating difficulties for speakers of Arabic (an official language in the State of Israel) to realize their eligibility for legal aid. The office of the Central District, which serves tens of thousands of Arab citizens from the “Triangle” region, Kafr Qassam, Jaffa, and Lod, among other citizens, employs just a single Arab attorney out of a staff of 25. Similarly, not a single Arabic-speaking reception clerk is employed at the National Insurance Institute’s office in Haifa, a mixed city that is home to some 30,000 Arabs (11 percent of the total population). The report also gives an example of discrimination against the Arab population in the field of welfare services: the proportion of Jewish children at risk who participate in frameworks such as family care centers or day care programs is twice as high as that of Arab children facing the same level of risk.

The exclusion of Arab citizens prevails despite government decisions concerning due representation, as well as decisions of the Supreme Court. Thus, for example, a government decision dated November 15, 2009 concerning the appointment of members of the Israel Land Council did not include a single Arab representative, despite an explicit obligation established by the Supreme Court.3

As mentioned above, all these are just examples of a nationwide phenomenon that extends to all fields of life. The facts have been well-known for years. Recommendations have been made. Yet the gaps, and the frustration, alienation, and bitterness they engender, are only growing wider. Moreover, since the right to equality is a basic principle of substantive democracy, the institutionalized and ongoing discrimination against one-fifth of the population also undermines the foundations of democracy in Israel.

  1. See, for example, the Index of Equality between Jewish and Arab Citizens in Israel for 2008, published by Sikkuy in August 2009. []
  2. See ACRI’s Intervention to the Education Minister, July 2010 (not translated) []
  3. High Court of Justice 6924/98, ACRI vs. the State of Israel. []