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In times like these, when many are searching for work, including quite a few people 40 or older, the unemployed are coming up against an unexpected obstacle - job advertisements with age and gender limitations that take them out of the competition.

Seemingly discriminatory help wanted ads are, in fact, published daily and without compunction. The government, which established the Israel Equal Employment Opportunity Commission just last year, seems unable to put a stop to it.

Advertisements like "Security guards wanted for Bank Hapoalim, up to age 45" and security guards for post office branches up to age 40" can be found on popular Web sites like Jobnet and Job Master. Want ads for security guards at the Tel Aviv Museum and Cellcom openly state that preference will be given to candidates under 35.

A Tel Aviv hotel wrote it is seeking "a post military service worker" (using the feminine form of address), adding at the bottom of the ad that the job is open to men and women alike.

Age limitations appear to be the norm in reality shows as well. A recent ad said the Reshet television franchise was seeking candidates aged 18-40 for a new reality show.

Itamar (a pseudonym), a 37-year-old economist who has been unemployed for six months, says he has encountered an age bar even for part-time work. "As time goes on, employers are becoming not only more blatantly - and illegally - discriminatory, but are even specifying their preferred age range," Itamar says. "It started with temporary jobs and has spread to regular and more senior positions as well. The explanation is simple. The laws are not being enforced."

Itamar complained to the commission about the phenomenon in January and provided several examples for good measure. He also forwarded his grievances to the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, which oversees the commission's activities.

Four months and many complaints later, Itamar finally received a reply.

"We are currently dealing with other matters that force us to delay the handling of your complaint. With the appointment of a regional commissioner it will be possible to handle the complaint more effectively and possibly more quickly," the letter said.

The commission began accepting complaints in September 2008 and has handled about 340 complaints so far. But until May 2009 the staff included just three employees: the national commissioner, attorney Tziona Kenig-Yair, an intern and an administrative manager.

Two additional regional commissioners joined the team about a month ago, and another will be added at some future date.

The year-old commission reports it has received 13 complaints of discrimination in want ads, and five of them are now being handled. In the other cases the commission chose to approach the employers, who promised it wouldn't happen again.

As to Itamar's complaint, Kenig-Yair says she concluded that not all of the 20 ads to which he had referred could be seen as discriminatory.

"As a commission we must identify priorities for handling the complaints we receive, and unfortunately there are more urgent ones than these. In some cases workers are on about to be fired due to suspected discrimination," Kenig-Yair clarified.

The office, the commissioner explains, gives priority to specific complaints over which its intervention could alter a potentially discriminatory result.

One manager of a security company that runs help wanted ads (who prefers to remain anonymous), said he was not aware of the legal prohibition and would rectify the situation.

However, the manager begged to introduce som ereality.

"If anyone thinks that more opportunities will open up for older people as a result, they are kidding themselves. From now on we won't advertise the age in our ads, but when we a receive resume or a candidate comes in for an interview and we see the person is older, we will be forced to rule that candidate out. No one wants a bank or post office security guard to be an old person. They are responsible for the lives of dozens of people, and we need them to be young and in good shape."

Shay Chen, the owner of the Job Master Web site, where part of the seemingly discriminatory ads appeared, said the site's content and updating of want ads are managed by the employers themselves and are their responsibility. "Advertisers have signed their agreement to regulations that prohibit anything illegal. Specific complaints about ads on the Web site are dealt with immediately," Chen says. A spokesman for its competitor, Jobnet, says such issues are handled in a similar manner.

Cellcom, Bank Hapoalim, Reshet, the Israel Postal Service all denied direct responsibility for the advertisements, but promised TheMarker the matter would be dealt with immediately.