foreign workers children
Foreign workers and their children at a Tel Aviv conference in 2010. Photo by Moti Milrod
Text size

What do Israelis really think about the migrant workers who live in their midst? And what do the migrant workers in turn think about Israelis?

A survey of Israeli women who employed migrant workers reveals that day-to-day contacts did little to change stereotypical attitudes and beliefs and that these views continued to feed the desire of Israelis to maintain distance from their visiting employees.

According to the survey, Israeli women who employed migrant workers held similar views about them as those who did not employ migrant workers.

The study was authored by Dr. Riva Ziv, a sociologist who teaches at the Ariel University Center of Samaria (northern West Bank ). It appears in the legal journal Hamishpat, which is published by the College of Management's School of Law.

As part of the year-long study, 168 Israeli women and 55 female migrants, most from East Asia, were asked to fill out a questionnaire. Two-thirds of the migrants were hired to care for children, while the remainder were hired to tend to the elderly. The average age of the migrant women was 38.

The migrant women quizzed in the survey have been in Israel on average four years and have two children. Slightly more than one-third of them had completed high school, while the rest had concluded elementary school.

According to the survey, Israeli women who employed migrant workers tended to view them as more respectful than Israeli women who did not employ migrant workers.

The Israeli women who employed migrants also said they believed they possessed a good work ethic and were polite.

Ziv said she had expected Israeli women who did not hire migrant workers to have more stereotypical views of migrant workers and be more hesitant about forging social connections with them. In practice, though, a majority of the respondents in both groups - Israelis who did and did not employ migrant workers - said that Israeli workers "behave better" than migrant workers. Respondents in both categories also showed little willingness to initiate social ties with migrant workers.

According to Ziv, the stereotypical views held by Israelis could be attributed to ethnocentrism. Israeli women view their culture as superior to that of the migrant workers and tend to form a condescending view of the migrant workers' way of life, the study posits.

Typically, migrant women are forced to leave their families behind in their home countries, as they earn a living doing menial jobs in Israel.

"The wide socio-economic gaps between Israeli female employers and migrant female workers does not permit personal intimacy between the employer and the employee or minimize stereotypical views," Ziv said. "This may also stem from the fear of a foreign, different woman and the concern that Israeli culture could be harmed."

Both groups of Israeli women indicated that while they were amenable to creating emotional bonds and spending time with migrant workers as friends, they were not as willing to live in close proximity or to live in the same apartment building as them.

"Every group prefers its own, and it doesn't want close contact with the foreign group," Ziv said. "Working in the home of the Israeli employer did not alter the desire of Israeli women to maintain a separation."

In contrast with what she had anticipated, Ziv said, there were no differences between Israeli employers and the non-employers when it came to their willingness to maintain close, social ties with migrant workers.

Ziv is currently completing another study about the attitudes of Israeli men who employ migrants.