Israel’s Civil Service Commission informed government ministries this week that it plans to “crack down to the full extent of the law” on online comments by civil servants it deems racist or supportive of violence.
The commission held pre-dismissal hearings on Tuesday for seven civil servants who had posted such comments on social media. All of them work in the health care system, and six of them are Arabs.
The commission’s disciplinary unit will decide shortly whether to dismiss or punish them in some other fashion.
The commission wrote in its letter that the crackdown was made “in light of the current security situation.”
“We are encountering unacceptable comments by state employees on social media, including racist comments and comments supporting acts of violence,” it said. “Given the situation, let us make it perfectly clear that we take seriously any racist comment and any encouragement of or support for acts of violence.”
The commission added that “we plan to launch, when appropriate, disciplinary investigations and to take disciplinary action against employees who violate these instructions, including suspension.”
Michal Tadjer, an attorney with the Worker’s Hotline nonprofit organization who has assisted some of the employees summoned to hearings, said most of their cases involved “political comments” made privately.
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The cases included a worker who wrote, “God will protect the residents of Gaza,” a doctor who had shared a post about slanted media coverage of the fighting and a worker who criticized how the police had handled a Haifa demonstration.
Tadjer said the accused described to her “a work environment that’s very hostile toward them after their posts were shared online by right-wing activists, and people in the hospitals turned hostile …. You need nothing more than this to fan the flames.”
The Worker’s Hotline and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel wrote to the civil service commissioner and to the attorney general, saying, “The very summons to a hearing based on a comment in one’s own virtual space constitutes a serious violation of the employees’ privacy and their freedom of expression.” They noted, “There is already a ruling that limiting a civil servant’s right to express an opinion is permitted if there is near certainty of damaging the civil service’s ability to function.” They added, “This serious violation of health system workers’ freedom of expression is especially egregious given that it is applied only toward Arab workers.”
Right-wing activists have forwarded dozens of posts by Arab employees to private companies and state authorities, claimng they support violence against Jews and demanding that these workers be fired. One such case led to the suspension of an orderly at Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Kerem, who posted a swastika on Instagram. The hospital said it had informed the temp company employing the worker that his suspension was pending a full examination of the issue.
In another case, the owners of Jerusalem’s Caffit café allegedly announced that they wanted to fire and replace Arab workers who had observed Tuesday’s strike in the Arab community with Jewish workers. A day after posts about this story circulated on dozens of right-wing WhatsApp and Telegram groups, the café owners denied initiating it and accused the kashrut supervisor of involvement. Co-owner Irit Altaratz said: “This announcement did not go out with our approval or knowledge. We haven’t fired, nor do we plan to fire, any employee.”
Another example of the effect the escalation is having on Arab-Jewish labor relations is a letter sent by a water engineer and consultant, announcing he would no longer work on construction projects in Rahat. The engineer, Haim Yaakobi, wrote, “Due to the attack on Israel and its Jewish citizens from within and without by Arabs and Bedouin, I’m not interested in having a hand in allocating to them additional resources of Israel, particularly to the Rahat municipality, where there’s a picture of arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat in the mayor’s office.” Yaakobi added he will agree to supply services “to plan any city, Jewish or not Jewish, so long as it is loyal to Israel and its residents and doesn’t support terror.”
In response, Bedouin Authority director Yair Maayan announced he was canceling all contracts with Yaakobi. He called on all government ministries to do the same. Maayan wrote to Yaakobi: “I received with shock your racist, offensive and inciting message about refusing to plan Rahat’s water system. You even included all Rahat residents in your inciting statement, falsely claim that it’s a city that supports terror and that isn’t loyal to Israel.”
With regard to Arafat, Maayan wrote, “We’re talking about the former chairman of the Palestinian Authority, whose hand was shaken by Israeli prime ministers.”
Yaakobi later apologized for his remarks.