Feature: Should Arabs be Building your Home in Israel?

Recent terrorism in Jerusalem has unleashed an undercurrent of suspicion in the minds of many Israelis. Photo: A Jewish construction worker.

Hagit Rotenberg,

Recent terrorist attacks perpetrated by Israeli-Arabs working in Jerusalem have unleashed an undercurrent of suspicion in the hearts and minds of many Israeli citizens.
 
Unlike the Arabs of Judea and Samaria (Yesha), Israeli-Arabs hold Israeli citizenship and enjoy state benefits. Much of the Israeli public has largely considered them loyal citizens over the years.
 
That perception is changing.
 
The movement promoting Jewish Labor has gained momentum as a result of the recent attacks, and many Israelis now actively seek out services and suppliers which employ Jewish laborers only.

A Jewish construction worker

The following feature article on Jewish labor and the Jewish Labor Hotline originally appeared in Hebrew in the B'Sheva weekly, Israel's third largest-circulation newspaper. Information about the Jewish Labor hotline appears at the end of this article, along with some sample listings.

Should Arabs be Building your Home in Israel?
By Hagit Rotenberg, B'sheva Newspaper

The following news report, published a week ago, is just another unremarkable headline of the many which are flooding internet news sites: Arab workers attack a Jewish Electrician, resident of Kiryat Gat, with a Hammer at a building site in Kibbutz Massuot Yitschak. The Jewish worker told the police that he did not even know his attackers as it was their first day at work - they began hitting him for no reason. The police have yet to determine whether the incident was nationalistically motivated or just an act of hooliganism.

After two terrorist driven bulldozers wreaked murderous havoc in the heart of Jerusalem just last month, one would expect the public not to need the story of the Kiryat Gat worker to understand how dangerous it is to employ Arabs. Yet surprisingly, the hiring of Arab workers is so entrenched in many sectors of Israeli industry that even those who experience the terror have a hard time changing. Rafi Bantal, security supervisor at Massuot Yitschak, said that the contractor in the case above was a private builder brought into the kibbutz.  “Still”, he admits, “the kibbutz also employ Arabs, but they all have work permits and someone armed accompanies them all the time they are here.”


It’s the same at Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, located south of Jerusalem, where, despite a terrorist attack foiled by a miracle at the Mekor Chaim Yeshiva high school just six months ago, there are over one hundred Arab workers. “I would be happy to see the situation change,” says Efraim Somech, head of security at the kibbutz, “but it’s hard to find Jewish workers for the jobs we have available. We also have to stay on good terms with the three Arab villages nearby, some of whose residents have been working here for many years. Arabs work in the entire Etzion area, in kitchens, offices, stores, groceries, on construction sites - just about everywhere.”

B'sheva: After they infiltrated into the yeshiva high school library, aren’t you afraid to allow them in?
Somech: “We worry about each and every one of them, but try to keep things in proportion. I am extremely strict about sticking to the quota of Palestinian workers I allow, so that at some point it pays for employers to look for Jewish workers.”

“Jewish Labor” can Work
In contrast to Somech in Kfar Etzion, Danny Huerta, a garage owner in Kfar Adumim east of Jerusalem, has a more encouraging story. Huerta, originally from Sadot in the Sinai desert, was uprooted from his home there in 1982 and settled in Maale Adumim, later moving to Kfar Adumim. “I ran a cement factory for seventeen years”, he notes, “employing Palestinians, until one day I just decided to do without them.”

A Jewish construction team builds a house from the foundations to the roof.

B'sheva: What caused the change?
Huerta: “It bothered me. I felt that as Jews we have to take care of our own people. I began to establish a new business and hired Jews only. I’ve been running my garage for years, and it costs me at least double to employ Jews, but there is no comparison when it comes to loyalty, level of professionalism and the atmosphere in the workplace.” He claims that more customers come to his garage because of it.

The Kfar Adumim garage is one of about 2000 businesses that adhere to a “Jewish Labor” policy and are listed in the Hotline for Jewish Labor that began a year and a half ago. “The hotline was created in response to requests from employers looking for workers”, claims Efraim Ben Shochat, one of its organizers, “but we also serve people looking for a mover, tile-layer, contractor, etc. who now know where to turn.  We have businesses located all over the country in fields from catering to picture framing.” The hotline sends teams to suitable businesses to suggest adding their name to the database. Other names are recommended by those already on the list. “To ensure high quality, we do satisfaction surveys among customers who have used the services.  We recommend businesses with high ratings.”

The site acts as an employment center for factories and businesses looking for Jewish workers as well.

The hotline has done little advertising during its one and a half year's existence, but the massacre at the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva and the two bulldozer attacks shortly afterward led to a flood of requests and over 3000 users have contacted the hotline seeking services. “Every terrorist attack causes more requests to come in,” says Ben Shochet, “and on the day of the first bulldozer attack, three contractors who need tractor drivers called and said that they cannot continue to employ and have coffee breaks with enemies after this horror. Others claim fear as the reason for calling, still others want to give Jews a way to make a living.”


Business Owners think Twice
While the religious-Zionist sector is awakening to the issue of employing Jewish workers, the hareidi-religious sector is just beginning to come to an awareness of the issue.

After the Merkaz HaRav massacre, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky issued a Jewish legal ruling banning the employment of Arabs. It is unclear how much of the hareidi business world heeded this ruling, but the Hevron Geula Yeshiva did so. Rabbi Kruezer, the head of the yeshiva, told Besheva that the yeshiva fired its two Arab workers, but had to do it carefully so as not to find itself accused of breaking equal employment laws.  An Arab worker fired a month ago without any connection to his being an Arab, told students that he was considering a terrorist attack. The subsequent police interrogation claimed that there was no basis to his threats. Rabbi Kreuzer intends to end a fourth Arab’s employment shortly. A well known hareidi yeshiva in Jerusalem, Kol Torah, stated that it has not employed Arabs for fifteen years, but refused further comment.

The 17-year-old Hadar Geula Restaurant in Jerusalem's Geula neighborhood changed over to Jewish labor five years ago. “At first”, says owner Azriel Roth, “we had some non-Jewish workers, but we decided to change that even though we could save a good deal of money that way.” The restaurant’s 12 workers are all from the hareidi-religious sector.

B'sheva: What are the difficulties involved in hiring only Jews?
Roth: “There are tasks, such as dishwashing and floor scrubbing that it is easier to ask an Arab to do than a religious Jewish father with beard and sidelocks. The Arab is happy to do it, while the Jew has less physical strength and may feel somewhat humiliated by it, but we have decided to stick to our decision.”

Roth is sure that most of the storeowners in Geula would prefer Jewish workers, but have a hard time finding them for the kind of work needed. “Now, customers demand Jewish workers because of the terrorist attacks, so everyone thinks twice before hiring an Arab. In addition, it is a wonderful feeling to have a minyan for the afternoon mincha and evening maariv prayers made up of your workers”, he adds.

Israeli Arabs pose a Security Threat
Rabbi Dudi Dudkewitz of Yitzhar, one of the areas that actively advocates hiring Jewish labor, explains that there are Jewish legal imperatives for doing so: “First, it is the highest level of charity to give a needy person work instead of a handout. Second, there is a commandment to buy from one’s brothers, as the Torah wishes to promote social consciousness and mutual caring among Jews. In addition, one is saving Jewish lives that might be lost in a terror attack and strengthening the settling of the Land of Israel by providing employment that keeps Jews from seeking work elsewhere and also encourages others to move here.”  The Rabbi noted the added danger of Jewish girls meeting young Arab workers and being enticed by them into eventual marriage, a tragic phenomenon that has occurred in all sectors including the hareidi-religious one.

B'sheva: How can the “Jewish Labor” ideal be advanced?
Rabbi Dudkewitz: “We must convince the public to support Jewish workers financially and accept the higher cost entailed. It is equally important to ensure that Jewish blue collar workers are accorded respect, that they are called to the Torah in synagogues as much as white collar workers and professionals.”

But, Rabbi Dudkewitz says that patience is needed: “Jewish workers cost more and possibly may not be as experienced as Arab ones in certain fields. It will take time for the process to take root.”

Betzalel Smotrich, who has organized rallies in favor of Jewish Labor, says: “It is time for us to erase the Green Line [1967 border] when we think about the Arabs here. Israeli Arabs are a fifth column who are trying to undermine the Jewish state and should have their citizenship revoked. Israeli society is not ready for this yet, but the attacks perpetrated by Israeli Arabs will change that.”

Smotrich says his rallies bring the issue of Israeli Arabs to the attention of mainstream Israel.  “This is a practical way to act on the point I made about Israeli Arabs. Employ Jews, buy from Jews, let our enemies know that we don’t intend to finance them.”

Advertisements for his most recent rally were signed by prominent Rabbis including Rabbi Yaakov Yosef (son of Rabbi Ovadiah), Chief Rabbi of Hevron Dov Lior, Rabbi of Elon Moreh Elyakim Levanon, and Rabbi Meir Mazoz. The ads defined the Arabs as the enemy, and pointed to the conclusion to refrain from employing and supporting them in any way. Smotrich advises the Israeli public to “look the issue in the face and realize that this is a survival issue. Hiding one’s head in the sand is not an option”, he concludes.

Translated by Rochel Sylvetsky

The Jewish Labor hotline operates in Hebrew only.
Email: mokedai@gmail.com . In Israel, dial: 1599-588-588.

The following Jerusalem eating establishments are listed in the Jewish labor hotline:

  1. Simone         49 Derech Hevron       054-546-2851
  2. Muskat         22 Kanfei Nesharim     02-652-4414
  3. Holy Bagel    3 locations: Central Bus Station,
                                          220 Yafo Rd.
                                          34 Yafo Rd. 02-5385806
  4. Shalif Grill      9 Bet HaDfus
  5. Sam Bagels   3 locations: Ben Yehuda Pedestrian Mall
                                           26 Malchei Yisrael  02-538-3262
                                           Paran Rd. Ramat Eshkol 02-581-3388
  6. Grill Burger 11 Bet HaDfus 02-651-0406

Related article: Jerusalem Cafe Still Employs Arabs Despite Poison Attempt





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