Arabs Win Right - to Drive Airport Taxis

Youssef Atallah, a taxi driver from Jaffa, took on discriminatory policy at the Israel Airports Authority – and won.

An Arab taxi driver last week managed to change policy at Israel's international airport, about who exactly gets to work there.

The Israel Airports Authority had a rule that the Hadar taxicab company, which won a tender to operate at Ben-Gurion International Airport, can only hire people who had done army service or national service.

But Youssef Atallah wanted to work for Hadar, driving people to and from the airport. It was not to be, because he hadn't done army or national service.

The discriminatory clause, which is part of the contract the Hadar taxi company signed with the Israel Airports Authority, singles out "operational employee" – meaning supervisors of operation, shift organizers and dispatchers.

As it turns out, the directive violates the Employment (Equal Opportunities) Law. Requiring military service as a prerequisite for a job is considered legitimate – rather than discriminatory – only if it stems from the character or nature of the job.

By no stretch could that apply to taxi companies.

“After looking into the affair, the IAA has decided to abolish the directive,” Tamar Turjeman, a senior lawyer at the IAA and the officer in charge of implementing the Freedom of Information Law there, wrote to attorney Shiri Lev-Ran Lavi, the commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission for Tel Aviv and the center of the country, to which Atallah complained.

The IAA's reversal followed a feisty fight by Atallah, an Arab taxi driver from Jaffa. The father of three had applied for a job at the Hadar taxi company in Lod. But Atallah was turned down on the grounds that he had no record of reserve duty.

Although the condition the IAA had given the Hadar taxi company referred to “operational employees” and not to drivers, the company applied it across the board.

The law states that applicants may not be rejected on the basis of ethnic background, gender, marital status, reserve duty status or any other factor not relevant to the applicant’s ability to do the job.

Atallah’s story ended well. About a week ago, after intervention by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission and the letter to the IAA, he was told that he had gotten the job.

“When I came for the interview at the Hadar company, I was told that I couldn’t be hired because I was an Arab, and that was the IAA’s rule,” Atallah says. “The interviewer told me explicitly that the problem was my national origin. Later, he said, ‘If you want to be hired, show your reserve duty record.’ I felt very bad.”

Now he's relieved.

“I was glad the discriminatory rule had been abolished. I wasn’t trying to come out a winner or be a hero. I just wanted to make a living,” he says.

According to Lavi, the condition that the IAA included in its contract with Hadar was “a blatant violation of the law.” The commission knows of other cases where discrimination on the basis of nationality is suspected, she says – but in the case of the IAA, the discriminatory directive was right there in black and white.

“At first, the IAA denied any discrimination, but when they saw the discriminatory condition, they admitted it," she says. "Now, Hadar Lod is offering jobs to more Arab taxi drivers. Arab taxi drivers have not been able to drive through Ben-Gurion Airport until now.”