Faced With Calls to Bar Arabs From Workplaces, Israeli Employers Stand Firm

Companies tighten security checks on workers, but union says it knows of only one dismissal. Rami Levy halts sales of kitchen knives at its groceries

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An employee stocking shelves at a Jerusalem supermarket.
An employee stocking shelves at a Jerusalem supermarket.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The wave of violence that has swept Israeli streets in the past two weeks has pushed its way into the doors of many stores where Arabs work.

“A quarter to a third of our employees are Arabs, and this has created quite a few problems now. They work at meat counters, in the produce department, in deliveries and elsewhere,” said an executive at one supermarket chains, who asked not to be identified.

“Of course, we want to employ them, but we’ve been approached by customers over the last few days who say they are afraid. We explained to our customers that we don’t discriminate and that there’s nothing we can do.”

The executive said one customer told him that after the stabbing attacks in Ra’anana this week, an Arab employee at one of his stores cried out with joy. “What we always do in cases like these is to try to keep everyone calm,” he said.

Rami Levy, who owns the discount supermarket chain by the same name and has come under fire from right-wing groups for employing Arabs, said that so far relations between his Jewish and Arab workers have not been unaffected by the wave of terror.

“So far, we haven’t had any problems,” Levi said. “Yesterday and today 95% of employees reported for work. A small number of our Arab employees didn’t come to the stores and others needed to leave early because they feared that the neighborhoods in Jerusalem where they live would be closed. Even a few Jewish workers didn’t come in because they were scared.”

On Wednesday, police began sealing off Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem deemed violent, in an effort to quell the wave of attacks.

Levy, who also a member of the Jerusalem City Council, is critical of people who are staying at home in response to the violence.

“Naturally people are worried, but no one ends to bring their life to a halt. I went out yesterday to eat at a Jerusalem restaurant in the middle of town and sat on the sidewalk, and not inside, out of principle,” he said.

Levy did say that at the beginning of the week he decided to stop selling kitchen knives at one of his supermarkets. “Why am I employing security guards to check people coming into the stores if I continue to sell knives? That’s crazy,” he explained.

Meanwhile, Israelis are increasingly doing their grocery shopping over the Internet. Rami Levy says the number of online orders has jumped by 80% in recent days. As a result, customers who put in orders Wednesday will have to wait until Monday afternoon for delivery.

Concerns about Arab employees were heightened on Tuesday after an employee of the Bezeq telephone company, an Israeli citizen living in East Jerusalem, killed one man and injured three other people when he rammed his service van into a crowded bus stop before getting out and stabbing passersby. Many companies have begun security checks after it emerged that the attacker, Alaa Abu Jama, had expressed support for terror in the past.

“There’s no question that businesses are on a higher state of alert over their employees than ever before,” said one executive at a food manufacturer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Many companies are looking at employees’ Facebook pages to see what they’ve written. We’re monitoring through our security department, and if we find a problematic employee we’ll report it to the police and the Shin Bet security service,” the food executive said.

So far, there are few if any signs that Arab employees are being suspended from their jobs or fired, At the Histadrut labor federation, the only reported firing was of an employee for the mobile carrier Pelephone, over a message she posted on social media.

Moshe Dadon, the head of the Judea Regional Council, said he had rejected a demand by parents that Arab cleaners at local schools be barred from the buildings, but he refused. “All the council’s employees are working as usual, Arab and Jews. Arab workers are citizens of Israel in every respect. We won’t be dragged into attempts at incitement,” Dadon said.

The social media are filled with unverified reports of Jewish employers refusing to allow Arab employees to come to work and/or asking employment agencies not to send Arab candidates. But the placement agencies themselves say they haven’t received requests like that. Agencies specializing in cleaning and security services say they haven’t been asked to substitute Jewish workers for Arab ones.

Nevertheless, Sikkuy, The Association for the Advancement of Equal Opportunity, expressed concern that if the wave of terror continues, the situation will change. The advocacy organization urged Economy Minster Arye Dery on Wednesday to make sure that workers’ rights are not violated.

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