Fearing Time-consuming Security Checks, Israeli Kibbutz Firm Balks at Employing Arabs

Israeli Arabs working for firms that export goods may trigger costly security checks, but kibbutz members, activists, and Israeli Tax Authority in agreement that discrimination in employment is illegal.

Do goods manufactured and packaged by Arabs get more thoroughly checked by customs officials before they’re exported?

Maytronics, a firm owned by Kibbutz Yizrael that makes robotic swimming pool cleaners, claims this is indeed the case, and that is why it reportedly does not employ Arabs on its production and packing lines.

The claim came to light earlier this month, when the weekly Kibbutz Movement magazine Hazman Hayarok published an article on Maytronics’ achievements.

The report said that a little over a year ago, the company encountered financial difficulties and was weighing an acquisition offer from an American company, but in the end, kibbutz members rejected the offer. Maytronics has since recovered, the report continued, and now controls 35 percent of the market for robotic swimming pool cleaners. Ninety-eight percent of its production is exported.

The company employs 40 kibbutz members and brings in up to 250 temporary workers during heavy production periods, many of them newly demobilized soldiers and pensioners, the report said.

However, it noted, the company does not employ Arabs on its production line, “because goods for export that are packaged by Arabs are delayed by additional examinations, making it possible to miss the [shipping] container and arrive late to market.”

The report angered many kibbutz members, and some wrote in protest to the company. Dr. Yousef Jabareen, a legal scholar and director of Dirasat − the Arab Center for Law and Policy, also received inquiries on the matter. He said the report raises serious concerns about illegal conduct by both the company and the authorities.

“I would want a thorough investigation of this issue, and the cancelation of any guideline that discriminates against Arab citizens,” Jabareen said.

Haaretz queried two different businessmen, one of them Arab. Both export medical products that could be considered sensitive; both employ Arabs; and both said they were approved exporters. But neither of them had ever encountered this phenomenon.

“Once you’re a company that observes all the laws and regulations, there’s no reason for a delay,” said one. “I don’t know if our merchandise is more carefully examined, but if that’s true, then we’re talking about internal procedures that we are not aware of.”

Maytronics responded that it does not discriminate in hiring on any basis, including ethnic background, and that it employs Arabs at its headquarters. The company carefully observes all security instructions related to exports, it continued, and it attaches extreme importance to meeting supply deadlines so that it can preserve its position in its competitive field.

The firm did not respond to a specific query regarding Arabs on its production line.

The Israel Tax Authority said that as a government agency, it champions equality and democracy, and that workers’ ethnic background or religion aren’t a decisive factor in determining whether to check shipments.

“In accordance with the law and accepted practice all over the world, there are a variety of security and customs considerations for examining shipments,” it continued. However, it declined to elaborate.

Michal Fattal