The Shekel Drops / The Shin Bet Believes in Israel's Arabs

The Shin Bet holds the idea that integrating Arabs into Israeli society is key to enhancing their sense of belonging and identification with the state.

The Shin Bet security service cannot be accused of being bleeding hearts or of harboring leftist tendencies. We can assume that the Knesset isn't about to order an investigation into the Shin Bet on suspicion of being a subversive left-wing organization. Yet it turns out that the Shin Bet and the subversive left-wing organizations have in common the idea that integrating Arabs into Israeli society is key to enhancing their sense of belonging and identification with the state.

Super-Pharm (Nir Kafri)
Nir Kafri

This isn't a new tack for the Shin Bet. The report of the Or Commission of Inquiry, which investigated the violent clashes between Israeli Arabs and police in October 2000, quoted Shin Bet intelligence assessments from the start of that year that forecasted rioting as a consequence of feelings of deprivation among the country's Arabs. The authors wrote of the community's strong sense that state agencies had turned their backs on it and were not doing enough to help them achieve equality.

The Shin Bet warned of the risk of social unrest, based in part on disappointed hopes that their economic and social lot would be speedily improved.

The security agency was right, as we learned in October 2000. Yet there were no riots in the five Arab towns in the Gilboa Regional Council. The fact that Gilboa is the most equitable council in Israel, that it cultivates Arab and Jewish communities identically, was apparently the deciding factor.

"The October 2000 events were an important test for us of the question whether equality creates a different civilian reality," says Gilboa Regional Council chairman Danny Attar. "Wonder of wonders, Israel went up in flames and only in our parts children went to school, people went to work as usual and Israeli flags continued to fly at the schools."

Shooting ourselves in the foot

A decade on, the Shin Bet has not changed its position on Israel's Arabs. Based on its deep familiarity with the community it continues to warn that their sense of deprivation poses a threat to Israel's security. If Israel's Arabs integrate into society as a whole, as equals, everyone would benefit. The Arabs would gain opportunities, the Jews would gain security, and the entire country would gain accelerated economic growth.

What the Shin Bet is telling us, if not in these words, is that the Arab community has tremendous potential that the Jewish community, in its blindness, is missing. And that this blindness hurts the Jewish community most of all.

Employers are reluctant to hire people with disabilities, Arabs and Haredim, in that order, according to a study by the Kiryat Ono Academic College of employment trends at big companies. In that, the private sector is no different from the public one. The state hasn't even come close to meeting its goal of a government workforce with 10% minorities. According to testimony before the parliamentary inquiry into the integration of Arabs into the public sector, headed by MK Ahmed Tibi, only 2% of workers at government companies are Arab. Of the Israel Electric Corporation's 13,000 employees, for example, only 287 are Arab.

The Finance Ministry preaches to its fellow ministries about waste, yet is itself guilty of wasting the precious resource that is Israel's Arab community: only 29 of its 1,000 employees are Arab.

Behind the hiring discrimination against Arabs in Israel is a melange of prejudice, spiced with bigotry, as well as linguistic and cultural barriers.

The one area in which Arabs are thoroughly integrated is medicine. Jews have no problem consulting Arab doctors or having Arab pharmacists fill their prescriptions. The Super-Pharm drugstore chain, undoubtedly the most equal opportunity employer in Israel, can take credit for the latter.

Someone who goes to an Arab doctor ought to be able to hire an Arab engineer. But the fact is that Arab engineers, even those with degrees from the prestigious Technion, can't find jobs. A case in point is the absurd story of Inas Said, an Arab Israeli whose Hebrew has a broad American accent.

After graduating from the Technion 25 years ago with a degree in electronic engineering, Said failed to find work at any high-tech company in Israel. He spent 20 years in Germany and the United States, including in top management positions at Nokia. After returning to Israel, five years ago, ECI Telecom hired him for a top job.

How many Inas Saids are there in Israel? Quite a few, apparently, quite a lot, and by insisting on missing them, we all lose.