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Until now, the Arab sector in Israel would brandish the name of Oscar Abu Razek as living proof of discrimination: The man was never appointed to the post of income tax commissioner despite having the requisite skills, and had to make do with the position of deputy commissioner. The reason was not a secret: He is an Arab. Now comes Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz and proves that he who did not want Abu Razek as income tax commissioner will receive him as director general of the Interior Ministry.

Oscar Abu Razek is the most senior civil servant within the Arab sector. He has been in the civil service for nearly 30 years, and has reached the height of deputy commissioner of income tax. Yet in spite of his substantial expertise in tax law and abundant experience, he was denied the job of commissioner.

Nor was his path to the position of deputy commissioner strewn with roses, and at one station along the way he appealed to the labor court when he felt discriminated against. In the Arab sector, he is held up as a sort of symbol of discrimination: the man who climbed the ladder of government administration but did not reach the top because he is Arab.

Nevertheless, Abu Razek is an exception. He has achieved senior standing in his field of expertise. No other Israeli Arab has accomplished what Abu Razek has. Attorney Ali Haider of the non-profit association Sikkuy said yesterday that only 5 percent of all civil servants are Arabs. The following instructive statistic appears in a report drafted by Haider last year: 93 percent of all Arab civil servants are employed in six government ministries, meaning that there is negligible representation of Arabs in most ministries.

Conversely, the level of education of the employees is high: 35 percent are university graduates, and 65 percent have post-secondary education, without an academic degree.

This situation persists despite two government decisions, dating to August 19, 2003, and February 4, 2004, which ostensibly introduced affirmative action insofar as representation of the Arab sector in the civil service. One might have expected that the state would make an effort to increase the number of Arab employees in its service, certainly at the higher echelons, but the number of Arabs hired in 2003 was only 193, out of a total of 4,531 new workers, which works out to 4.2 percent.

In other words, the celebratory decisions - based on the Civil Service Law, which calls for the granting of appropriate representation to all demographic groups in general, and the Arab sector specifically - are unable to overcome the hurdle of prejudice of the Jewish public and its establishment toward Arab citizens of Israel. This is an entrenched emotional attitude - sustained by many years of suspicion and labeling - which is not prepared to put its trust in any Arab or to assign him authority or responsibility.

At most, the Jewish public is for the most part willing to tolerate the Arab as service-provider to the Arab sector. In certain areas of life, this stereotype is being increasingly eroded. For example, there are very popular Arab physicians in hospitals. But in government administration in general, this is the prevalent attitude.

The civil service is the field of opportunity of the Arab public. Were it indeed open to the Arabs, it would offer them an arena for a transformation of its status and a point of encounter with a Jewish client audience. As Israeli Arabs assume more senior positions in the government administration, the Jewish public would become better acquainted with an unfamiliar aspect of their persona, and grow accustomed to receiving services from them.

Simultaneously, such a process would upgrade representation of Arab citizens at the policymaking level. The decision by Minister Pines-Paz then, is a first step in the right direction, as it assigns to an Arab citizen a high-ranking position that serves the entire populace. Individuals familiar with Abu Razek, including high-ranking Jewish politicians, said yesterday that he is a professional of the first rank, a fair-minded person with the appropriate skills to handle the senior position that has been offered to him. One must hope that the appointment procedure will go smoothly, thereby setting an important precedent.