The timing of the general strike called in the Arab community on Tuesday – immediately after the Eid al-Fitr and Shavuot holidays – brought tempers to a boil among a number of Jewish employers and their Arab employees. When Aya Baidusi, an engineer at an architectural and construction company, informed her boss she would not be coming to work because of the general strike in the Arab community, she didn’t think it would cost her her job.
Baidusi wrote to Victor Ben David, the owner and CEO of Benda, on Monday: “Shalom Vicky, because of the situation they declared a strike, so I’m not coming tomorrow to work in the hope that the situation will be better.” Thirteen minutes later Ben David answered her: “What’s the connection between the strike in the Arab community and work in the office? Thank you very much for the period you worked at Benda, I wish you success in the future.”
Baidusi answered: “What does that mean what’s the connection? After all, I’m an Arab, and the pain of the Arab community is my pain. It’s a shame you aren’t showing understanding and empathy…The lack of understanding and empathy of you and people like you doesn’t herald good things for the future of coexistence of the two peoples.”
Ben David responded: “The country, of which you are a citizen, gave you a warm home and rights exactly like mine, but you and your people chose not to integrate into this country that has really given you everything. Because of people like you, you will always remain second-class citizens, and that’s a shame.”
‘Be here tomorrow or you’re fired’
Baidusi, 23, from Kafr Kara, began working at Benda – an Or Akiva company specializing in planning, construction, consulting, development and project management – four months ago. Her father, attorney Thabet Baidusi, said they have not yet decided how to respond. “At this stage we are publicizing the information on social media. It is important to us that it reaches a lot of people, so they know what’s happening.”
Baidusi said: “Aya’s in shock. It’s hard for her, she liked her job, and was happy she was hired to work there. She was considering what to do. There were people who proposed she simply say she was sick, or say she was afraid to come because it’s dangerous on the roads, but she wanted to be honest.”
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Her case is not the only one. Haaretz has obtained a recording of a conversation between Danny Mizrahi, an owner of the poultry company Off Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Poultry), with an Arab employee – with Mizrahi threatening to fire Arab employees who take part in the strike and don’t come to work.
“I talked to the Angel and Berman [bakeries], all the Arab drivers are working and no one is striking,” Mizrahi said. “I’m telling you again, whoever doesn’t come tomorrow, no longer has work in Off Yerushalayim. It’s over, it’s over! I’m closing the business for three, four, five days. I’ll arrange to get drivers – and everyone goes home. Don’t say I didn’t tell you.”
When Haaretz asked Mizrahi about the conversation, he confirmed it happened – but said he did not mean to carry out his threat. “There’s no strike, everyone came to work and everything is fine.”
“Yesterday they argued with me that they don’t want to come to work. I told them – guys, I slaughter birds and I have a delivery of 50 trucks, and whoever doesn’t come, I’ll replace him with other drivers, of course with Arab drivers.” Mizrahi said everyone came to work.
Mizrahi said about the recording that it was all right that they recorded him, because “that’s what I told them – but everyone came to work because I made them think straight. I told them they need to support their families, and instead of lowering the flames they are raising the flames. They need to know that they haven’t been working for a week already – because of their holiday and our holiday – and they need to bring food home. Who will bring them food home at the end of the day? I’ve worked with them for 25 years and they are like my children and my family. So there is a bit of agitation and I threatened them a little, but I didn’t mean to fire and I also won’t fire anyone.”
‘I’m not a racist, I have no political interest’
Attorney Eran Golan, an expert in labor law and chairman of the labor law committee of the Israel Bar Association, says the strike is political and is not protected by labor law – and missing work in such a case can be treated by employers as a disciplinary violation. But Golan added, “The National Labor Court has ruled in the past that not every disciplinary violation and absence justifies a firing procedure, and it is not allowed to view such an absence as a resignation.
“Seven years ago, when the community of asylum seekers took steps of protest against the government – including a five-day strike – the labor courts rejected the argument that their absence could be seen as quitting,” he added. “In light of the short period of time of this strike – only one day – and the claim it was not done on the basis of harassment because of national affiliation, then firing in the case of a short absence may even possibly be in violation of the equal opportunities law, so that the [labor] court could very well rule against the firings.”
Ben David may have thanked Baidusi on Monday evening for her work and wished her success down the road, but on Tuesday morning he said he did not fire her, and had told her to return to work. “Maybe it sounded that way, but I didn’t fire her. She can come to the office tomorrow morning. She is a good worker, they like her here.
“I’m not a racist,” he said. “I don’t have any political interest or another. We aren’t a political firm. I work to bring Jews and Arabs together, for 30 years I work with Arabs in the company, and I have Arab partners in other companies,” added Ben David.
Baidusi says she will not go back to work for Benda, and will quit. “How can I go back there after the things he wrote me? It’s a firm that doesn’t respect me and doesn’t understand me and my society, and our desire to strike. How can I work in such a place?”
But she says she never faced any show of racism or discrimination during the short time she worked there. “I didn’t deal with political things at all in the office, I didn’t get into that. Everyone has their own opinions,” said Baidusi. Because of the wide coverage her story received, Baidusi said she received more than 20 job offers on Tuesday – including from large companies – so she is not worried about finding a new job.