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Grocery Chain Told to Rehire 'Violent' Arab Workers

Kimat Chinam has been ordered to rehire 21 fired Arab workers. Store denies discrimination, says workers were aggressive, made threats.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 4/10/2011, 8:35 PM / Last Update: 4/10/2011, 9:22 PM

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A grocery store that fired 21 Arab workers at once must hire them all again, Justice Ravit Tzaddik of the Tel Aviv District Labor Court ruled Sunday. The store was accused of racial discrimination in the firings.

'Workers were Violent, Made Threats'
Store managers at the Kimat Chinam branch in Modiin said the Arab workers in question created an atmosphere of violence and intimidation, threatened customers and fellow workers with physical violence, and were involved in sexual harassment in the workplace.

Some of the workers even bragged that they were involved in the murder of five members of the Fogel family in Itamar, and did so in the presence of Jewish workers and customers, management said.

They denied that the firings were motivated by the workers' ethnic background. Six Arab workers remain at the store in question, and almost 25% of workers at the Kimat Chinam network are Arab, they said, “So we cannot be considered a company that discriminates between its workers.”

Workers: Anti-Arab Discrimination
However, the workers told a different story. Workers said they were discriminated against by the manager, and had been fired with no warning, without a chance to tell their side of the story. All Arab workers at the Modiin branch were fired, they claimed, including some who had worked at the store prior to the appointment of the most recent manager, who had not had any complaints about them.

Notices of termination of employment were sent via one of the workers, who was given the letters on Friday and told to pass them on to his friends, the workers said. The letters told the workers they were fired and prohibited them to return to their former workplace.

Suit Filed by Former Director of NIF Group
The suit against the firings was brought by Attorney Ina David Sultanovich, on behalf of the Ministry of Trade and Labor's Equal Opportunities Commissioner. The Commissioner, Tziona Kenig-Yair, was formerly Director of the Women's Lobby, which is funded by the controversial New Israel Fund.

The NIF is a left-wing umbrella group that distributes funds – suspected to be primarily from foreign donors – to Arab and far-left Jewish organizations in Israel.

In representing the workers, Sultanovich responded to the claim that they had bragged about the murders in Itamar by saying that only a single worker, at most, had claimed to be involved in the slayings, and that managers had failed to provide first-hand testimony regarding the incident.

Some criticized Kenig-Yair's behavior in the case as hypocritical. The Women's Lobby usually trumpets cases of sexual harassment brought against Jewish leaders, and often calls for those accused of harassment to be fired. However, in this case, Kenig-Yair supported Arab men accused of harassment, and the Women's Lobby and political left have remained silent.

Court Rules: Workers Deserve a Hearing
In her finding in favor of the workers, Judge Tzaddik noted that the store had not brought proof that attempts had been made to deal with the workers' behavior or hold hearings in the matter. That fact alone made management's behavior problematic, even without the charges of racism, she said.

Minister of Trade and Labor Shalom Simchon praised the ruling. The ruling sends a clear message to employers that the government will not tolerate racism, he said.

“We see absorbing Arab employees in the workplace as being of utmost importance,” he said. “We will continue to work to prevent discrimination against them.”