Israeli Bill That Benefits Veterans Discriminates Against Israeli Arabs

When Arabs do not serve in the military, this is based on a government decision. Yet the legislation gives priority to veterans in student housing and employment.

A bill that would set out “rights for those who contribute to the state,” as it is described, is to be discussed Monday in the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee. The very fact that this committee has been chosen to discuss the bill, as if it were a bill on welfare, reflects cynical attempts to conceal its true purpose – discrimination against Arabs. People who don’t serve in the army or don’t do alternative civilian service are described in the bill’s accompanying notes as “showing a lack of loyalty to the state,” yet they still enjoy preferential treatment (affirmative action) in the civil service.

When Arabs do not serve in the military, this is based on a government decision. Alternative civilian service should be arranged through dialogue, not force. Of course, those who serve in the military should be properly compensated; the state can find a variety of ways to improve compensation and motivation to serve in the army; for example, raising the salaries or discharge grants for conscript soldiers. But the benefits detailed in the bill, which was proposed by MK Yariv Levin (Likud), are not legitimate. They infringe on equality and human dignity and discriminate in the distribution of public resources.

For example, in the bill, preference in eligibility for student dorms would go to those who “contribute to the state.” When considering the difficulty Arabs already encounter due to the refusal of Jews to rent them apartments, the harm to Arabs and their access to higher education becomes clear. On the one hand the state is investing huge resources in this access, on the other it could be sabotaging its own efforts.

Moreover, the bill seeks to discriminate against individuals seeking employment - in the private sector as well - based on military service in the framework of something called “the entirety of considerations.” Of course, including such a possibility opens the door to increasing discrimination that already exists.

Few elements remain from Levin’s original bill, but even they were enough to rouse Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to submit an opinion to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation stating that the bill infringed on the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, an infringement that raises constitutional difficulties. Surprisingly, the ministerial committee ignored the attorney general’s position. There is no need for the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee to add insult to injury.