Racism on the Train (part III)

Posted: April 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Israel’s Labor Court had another hearing on the issue of the Arab lookouts I’ve been following. As I wrote here before, Israel Railways, the national train company, tried to fire almost all of its Arab lookouts, on the pretext that it prefers to hire Army veterans for the job, i.e. Jews. The court ordered the train company not to fire the lookouts until its next hearing.

This is becoming a case study for the way discrimination works in Israel. The first comment Israel Railways gave on the matter didn’t even try to hide its motives. “Israel Railways sees its duty in helping people who served in the army,” said the spokesman for the train company. Because the work of a lookout has nothing to do with army training, I have estimated that the train company might be in violation of Israel’s equal opportunity law.

On act II, the issue did reach the court, and Israel Railways lost the first battle.

On act III, the train company changed its story. On Sunday’s hearing, Israel Railways’ Director of Security, Yehuda Shaked, claimed that the move was intended to “improve the level of supervision”, since the job of a lookout requires operating a radio and “working in a hierarchic organization”.

It takes about 5 minutes to learn to operate an Army radio. Your average cell phone is far more complicated. But that’s not the point. The point is that Israel Railways is moving from the blunt discrimination it tried to employ to the more hidden one, common in the Israeli work market.

Israel Railways will lose this battle. But if the train company had used the “radio argument” from the start, it could have gotten away with it.

8 Comments on “Racism on the Train (part III)”

  1. 1 LB said at 8:06 am on April 22nd, 2009:

    The train may have been on the wrong side of the law, but there’s a bigger question to be asked here.

    Don’t Israel and Israeli society have a duty to help those who fulfill their civic duty? Those who do give back to the state (whether or by coercion or not)? Should people who CAN lend a hand, but do not, be on the same playing field? And (not in the trains case, but still) should they be allowed to benefit from the 2-3 extra years they had, that former soldiers did not?

  2. 2 noam said at 10:32 am on April 22nd, 2009:


    I don’t think this is a legal issue, nor an issue about army veterans’ rights. I think Israel Railways specifically targeted Arabs (you can understand that from the changes in the company’s versions at the court). It is a matter of racism and discrimination.

    As for your second point, regarding benefits for those who did serve in the army: nothing prevents the state from giving benefits to veterans. For example, the state can pay for their university education. So when people who didn’t serve will work and save money for college, veterans will be able to go straight to school. The state can also give them Income Tax credits, based on the length of the service. And you can think of many more ideas which are both legal and moral.

    What’s immoral is to take the a group of people that the state doesn’t even want in the army, and take away their rights because they didn’t serve. BTW, this is only possible because the orthodox males don’t work – if they did, this sort of discrimination wouldn’t pass, since the orthodox don’t serve in the army as well.

  3. 3 LB said at 11:13 am on April 22nd, 2009:

    It is a legal issue here – I was looking at the bigger picture. Not firing people – but in terms of hiring – is it wrong to prefer veterans (of either the army OR national service – in which there is no barrier for anyone to participate)?

    Regarding your last point, I think it’s important to distinguish between Orthodox and Haredi/ultra-Orthodox. These are very different societies – and Orthodox DO serve in the army, and DO work, it is the Haredim who do not.

    The state needs to establish a true, country-wide mandatory national-service program, with painful repercussions for those who abstain (regardless of background – Haredi, Arab, Martians – I don’t care).

  4. 4 noam said at 11:28 am on April 22nd, 2009:

    Given the current situation in Israel – both legal and by practice – hiring is the same as firing. Note that a Jew, even if he spent 3 years in the army, stands a much better chance of finding a job in Israel than an Arab with the exact same qualifications.

    I don’t, however, necessarily object to mandatory national service. I do hope that it will include a real fight against all sorts of discrimination in Israel. You will be surprised to know that many Arabs hold the same view (I heard that there are more volunteers to national service than available positions – it’s worth checking). But this won’t happen – not because of the Arab MKs (they have no real power in the Knesset), but because of the orthodox. So it is wrong to point the finger at the Arabs.

    [I use the Hebrew version of the term Orthodox – what you call Haredi – but we mean the same public. They make about 11 percent of the draft]

  5. 5 LB said at 5:31 pm on April 22nd, 2009:

    I know many Arabs hold the same view, however, one issue that is holding back the establishment of system in the Arab sector (though, unfortunately that wouldn’t be a mandatory system) – is the objection of the older generation. The younger generation does want to help their community.

    What do you mean by Hebrew term – which one in Hebrew? When I see the word”Orthodox” that translates as דתי, not חרדי, as do most people who use it in either language. Nevertheless, drafting them now – yesterday even – is something I strongly support.

  6. 6 noam said at 10:01 pm on April 22nd, 2009:

    The term orthodox, in the American meaning (as opposed to reform or conservative) doesn’t have much meaning in Israel, since almost everyone are orthodox, even the seculars (the reform and conservative communities here, as you know, are very small). Like A. B. Yehushua said once, “the synagogue I don’t go to is an orthodox one.” So when people say orthodox, they usually mean Haredim. The rest of the religious are simply referred to as “Datyim”.

  7. 7 LB said at 11:37 pm on April 22nd, 2009:

    Yes, I know that for most Israelis – the shul they don’t go to is an orthodox one.

    It sounds, however, that you’re approaching this as an outsider – there are many differences in the religious community, outside of the Haredi community – various types of כיפה סרוגה, חרד”ל and everything in between.

    Anyway, since you’re writing in English, I think the distinction is important, since when you say orthodox, in English, most people simply think of anyone who is considered a dati of any kind, and even without touching on issues other than army service – there is a world of difference between the ‘two’ groups.

  8. 8 noam said at 4:02 am on April 23rd, 2009:

    You have a point. Since I write mainly for readers outside Israel, maybe I should use the American definition, or at least add the Hebrew term Haredim from now on.