Racism on the train (part V)

Posted: September 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism | Tags: , , , | Comments Off

During the month of April, I’ve been following here the story of the Arab lookouts that Israel’s national train company, Israel Railways, tried to fire and replace with Jewish workers.

This story includes all the familiar elements of institutionalized racism in Israel.

At first, the train company – which is owned by the state, and headed by a Kadima man, retired army Major General Yitzhak Harel – didn’t even deny that this was an attempt to favor Arabs over Jews. As it turned out, that was their initial mistake. Otherwise, nobody would have noticed the whole affair. Later on they tried to change the employment criteria for the post of a lookout, in a way that only army veterans (i.e. Jews) would be suitable for the job. This is a well known trick: you can get away with discrimination as long as you avoid saying actual words like “Arabs” or “Jews”.

Yesterday, the Tel Aviv labor court rejected the new criteria, and issued a restraining order against removing the lookouts from their job. Haaretz reports that:

Judge Ahuva Etzion of the Tel Aviv Labor Court rejected the new criteria on the grounds that the prerequisites did not relate to the nature or the substance of the work involved.

The article in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz states that judge Etzion also based her decision on “the circumstances that led the changes in the criteria”, hinting that if Israel Railways was bit more sophisticated in its first attempt to fire the lookouts, it could have gotten away with it.

Even so, the fact that the court specifically stated that “prerequisites must relate to the nature of the job” is important and could turn out to be very useful in future attempts to fight racism and discrimination through legal process.

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.