The Israeli Employment Service is not allowing online forms to claim unemployment be filled out in Arabic, which may result in thousands of unemployed people losing their stipends.
Applicants “can get help from a relative or anyone else who speaks Hebrew,” the service responded when asked about the lack of Arabic forms.
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Because of the coronavirus, the service has largely stopped letting applicants come into branches in person. Instead, it has been sending text messages to people, telling them to complete an online form to continue receiving their payments.
If the service doesn’t periodically confirm that someone is jobless, the National Insurance Institute automatically stops paying them income support – the basic welfare allowance on which many families depend.
Ma’an, the Workers Advice Center, found that in Jerusalem, most Arab job-seekers even received the text messages in Hebrew rather Arabic. Further, while the service’s website is available in Arabic, the form itself can only be filled out in Hebrew.
In a letter to the Employment Service, Erez Wagner of the WAC’s Jerusalem branch warned that this would likely result in the “automatic cancelation of most allowances to East Jerusalem residents in particular, and many other people as well.” East Jerusalem residents are particularly affected because they are typically much less proficient in Hebrew than other Israeli Arabs.
In response, Meital Cohen of the Employment Service’s legal department wrote that if “job-seekers don’t understand the text message, they can get help from a relative or anyone else who speaks Hebrew, and they’ll help him understand what is required and fill out the form.” Additionally, she said, they could call the service’s hotline for help.
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But getting help from the hotline is almost impossible. One applicant called four times on Wednesday and was finally answered by a Hebrew speaker. Moreover, the staff member didn’t help him fill out the form, but merely requested his email so she could send it to him in Arabic. A further problem, Wagner said, is that many unemployed people have no email address.
And given the current astronomical level of unemployment – in Jerusalem, the service had seven times as many applicants in April as it did before the coronavirus hit – the service doesn’t have enough staff to help most callers anyway, he added.
The service said it’s working every day to make itself accessible to Arabic speakers and that its website received the government’s highest grade for Arabic accessibility, but its computer system can’t handle Arabic form entries. It added that it has significantly increased the number of hotline workers, including Arabic speakers, sends text messages in Arabic and has an Arabic Facebook page.