Amusement Park Discrimination May Be Tip of Iceberg in Israel

Businesses and Web Sites Openly Cater to Jews Only


By Nathan Jeffay

Published June 10, 2013, issue of June 14, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Politicians have voiced outrage following revelations that an amusement park in central Israel segregated students from Jewish and Arab schools by having them attend on separate days. But civil rights activists say this discrimination is more common than many realize.

After learning that, for years, Superland in Rishon Lezion has been keeping schools from different sectors separate, Education Minister Shai Piron declared himself “shocked at the face of such acts that have no place in Israeli society.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began a Cabinet meeting June 2 by condemning the “phenomena of racism against Israeli Arabs.”

But according to Nadeem Shehadeh, attorney for the Israeli Arab nongovernmental organization Adalah, the incident at Superland doesn’t reflect a phenomenon — just everyday life. “This case isn’t unique,” he said. “What is unique is that it got to the media.”

The government’s practice of unequal allocation of resources between Jewish and Arab sectors is well documented. It was acknowledged bluntly in the findings of the Or Commission, a government panel appointed specifically to expose these practices, in the report it released a decade ago. But activists contend that discrimination by the private sector and by other service providers goes largely unchecked.

“There is no safeguard for equality,” Mohammad Zeidan director of the Arab Association for Human Rights, complained to the Forward. “And therefore there is a clear open window for discrimination.”

Israel did establish, in 2008, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. But with just 11 employees, it is seen by critics as largely reactive rather than proactive. Its activities consist mainly of non-discrimination training for employers who volunteer for this; it does not identify patterns of discrimination or look for offenders. It has initiated fewer than six cases a year on average in the labor courts.

Janet Shalom of the EEOC said her agency was established “in order to receive complaints and through that enforce equal opportunity in the workforce.” The commission is nevertheless seeking “to enlarge its authority,” said Shalom, by having employers complete voluntary reports on their hiring practices.

Activists contend that instances of discrimination are obvious.

Ads for services in trade directories, for example, will commonly use phrases like “Hebrew labor” and “blue and white labor” to signal to readers that they employ only Jews. The former was a slogan of Zionists in the pre-state era who were proud to work their own lands and make their own products, and while the latter refers to the Israeli flag, it’s widely understood to mean that the employees in question are Jewish.

There is even a website called Avoda Ivrit — Hebrew Labor — that boasts a database of 2,000 businesses nationwide that only employ Jews. The website administrators did not respond to a message from the Forward, but one of the advertisers, the owner of Jerusalem restaurant Shipudei Hagefen, spoke enthusiastically about its Jews-only staffing policy. Zion Anovil said that he introduced the policy 10 years ago and has found it “good for business.” Diners, said Hagefen are “more satisfied,” have “more confidence,” and like the policy from the point of view of service and ideology. “There’s no legal prob lem — I can hire who I want,” he insisted.

In fact, the law is clear. At least on paper, Israel’s Equal Employment Opportunities Law forbids discrimination on the basis of gender, marital status, pregnancy, age, race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, views, party affiliation and reserve duty in the army.

Nevertheless, on Janglo, a website for English-speaking immigrants in Israel, some businesses dispense even with the euphemisms. “You have finally found the BEST and ONLY ALL JEWISH MOVING SERVICE for your moving needs,” one listing declares.

The Jewish Moving Service, which placed the ad, promised to get back to the Forward with a comment, but failed to do so. Janglo’s administrator, Zev Stub, insisted that the moving company’s ad message “is not one of employment discrimination,” adding, “We refuse messages that violate the law.”

The EEOC and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor “do not see the mentioned advertisement as an acceptable one,” the ministry told the Forward on behalf of both agencies.

Public pressures has forced some changes. Until April 2012, Ben Gurion Airport, the country’s aviation gateway, instructed taxi companies not to send drivers from “minorities” — that is, the Arab sector — to the airport. The rule was canceled after its existence became public. But the airport’s contract with the Hadar taxi company, which serves the facility, still specified that the company could hire only drivers who had performed army or national service, which the vast majority of Arabs don’t.

Arab cab driver Youssef Atallah argued last August that unless specific military experience is needed to do the job, a demand that the job be restricted to army veterans violates equal opportunity law. After Atallah complained to the EEOC, the airports authority canceled the employment criterion.

Still, a national service record continues to be a common requirement in all sorts of jobs, from high-tech to restaurant work.

“In military-related jobs, [that’s] okay,” said Auni Banna, a staff attorney with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. “But you don’t need to have been in the military to know how to wash dishes.”

Zeidan, of the Arab human rights group, said that politicians venting their outrage at the Superland incident as if it were some rare occurrence have missed an opportunity to tackle more pervasive discrimination.

“The politicians and the prime minister talk against it, and that’s it,” he said. “But it’s not as if anyone says, ‘Let’s go to the root and deal with the problem.’” In Zeidan’s view, the government, parliament and courts need to become “proactive.”

Some Israeli Arabs claim that properties suddenly become unavailable when it appears to the would-be seller that that the buyers are Arab. More blatantly, in 2010 dozens of rabbis — including some who are state-salaried — signed a letter claiming that renting or selling to non-Jews violates religious law. Piron, the same education minister who condemned the Superland discrimination — and who is also a rabbi — wrote in an online halacha forum in 2002 that religious law prohibits selling homes to Arabs. Piron has said that he no longer stands by his ruling.

Contact Nathan Jeffay at

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen.
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.