A bill that gives preference to applicants for government jobs who are veterans of Israel Defense Forces service or national service was yesterday approved for a preliminary reading by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Yisrael Beiteinu, can be expected to discriminate against those that are in any case underrepresented in the government sector - the ultra-Orthodox, Arabs, Orthodox women, women who married before reaching the age of army service, new immigrants and people with disabilities.

Representatives of The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, women's rights groups, Ethiopian immigrants' groups and others at the meeting voiced their disapproval of the bill.

The Justice Ministry, the Commission for Equal Opportunity in Employment and the Knesset committee's own legal adviser also oppose the bill.

Following criticism of the wording of the bill, the committee's chairman, MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ) said he would change it to exclude immigrants who came to Israel after the age of compulsory army service, people with disabilities, and people already in government service who are applying for civil service jobs.

According to the bill, when two candidates with equal skills apply for a job in the civil service, preference will be given to the applicant who has completed compulsory service in the IDF, Border Police, the Israel Police or other services recognized by the law on military service.

MK Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beiteinu ), who proposed the bill, said at the meeting: "A young person who has just been released from the army after three years, risking his life on the line of fire, is limited in his ability to get a job in the civil service, as opposed to a draft-dodger who at that time went to university and gained work experience."

Rotem responded sarcastically to the bill's critics: "If that's the way it is, maybe we should do away with military cemeteries, because there's discrimination there, and Arabs aren't buried there."

Amnon Be'eri-Sulitzeanu and Mohammad Darawahe, the co-executive directors of the coexistance group The Abraham Fund, said the bill revealed the state's "split personality" when it comes to Arabs, defining minimum requirements to allow proper representation of Arabs in the civil service, while discriminating against them, for example, through the bill under consideration.