Israeli firms 'refusing to hire Charedim or Arabs'

By Nathan Jeffay, December 17, 2009

Ethiopian Jews, Charedim and Israeli Arabs are being systematically discriminated against in the workplace, even if they hold degrees, according to an influential new report.

In the first study of its kind, academics from Kiryat Ono Academic College near Tel Aviv surveyed employers about how graduates from these communities, widely considered Israel’s most disadvantaged, can expect to be received when they try to enter the job market.

The respondents included advertising executives, lawyers, bankers and other professionals who employ graduates.

Some 83 per cent said that in their profession, people prefer not to employ Arabs, while 58 per cent and 53 per cent said the same of Charedim and Ethiopians, respectively.

When it comes to promotions, Charedim seem to fare the worst, with 86 per cent of employers saying that people in their field prefer not to promote Charedim. Some 79 per cent said the same about Arabs and 70 per cent about Ethiopians.

Members of these groups faced “glass ceiling made of reinforced concrete”, the report concluded.

Researchers asked employers, in face-to-face interviews, why they thought there was bias against these communities.

A common response was that Arabs’ exemption from army service means that they lack of skills which other Israelis pick up in the military, and that their presence could create tension in the workplace over national security issues.

With Charedim, there were widespread feelings that cultural differences could interfere with workplace dynamics and that there could be conflict over religious issues such as Sabbath observance and men shaking hands with women.

Ethiopians were said to have difficulty integrating into teams and considered to lack ability.

The report indicates that Arabs and Charedim who enrol for a degree expect a very different reality.

When asked to rate the importance of education in professional development on a scale of 0 to 6, the average Israeli youngster gave it 2.84, Arabs rated it at 4.96 and Charedim 3.93.

Moshe Karif, one of the researchers behind the report, said that the gap between expectations and reality is a serious pushback for Arab and Charedi communities, given the trend for growing numbers of their youngsters to opt for degree studies as a route to socio-economic advancement.

Regarding Charedim, he said: “Israeli society has long said ‘leave the yeshivot and go out to work’, but now that we see that happening we see that the reception is not altogether positive.”

But the research team believes that the group which raises the biggest concern is Ethiopians.

When asked to rate the importance of education in professional development on the 0 to 6 scale, the average score Ethiopians gave was 2.22 — significantly lower than the national average.

This means, according to Erez Yakobi, who computed the statistics from the Ethiopian community, that while the other two groups need integrating in to the workforce, Ethiopians raise a “double challenge”. Members of the community need to be convinced that education pays, and employers need to be convinced to accept them.

Avi Masfin, deputy director of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, welcomed the research as the “first official report on what we have been screaming about for years”.

He said that Ethiopians are making progress in certain professional areas, including the civil service, but in others “we hear from a lot of graduates are invited, on their CVs, for an interview but when they get there told the positions are filled”.

Last updated: 4:47pm, December 17 2009