Economy Minister and Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett delivered a speech at an industry conference in Eilat Thursday morning. In the speech, he referred to Ashkelon mayor Itamar Shimoni's decision to temporarily stop the employment of Arab Israeli construction workers.
Shimoni cited security concerns for his decision, amid continued tensions and a series of recent terrorist attacks, including Tuesday’s brutal attack in a Jerusalem synagogue.
The mayor explained that the increased presence of Arab workers in close proximity to educational institutions is potentially harmful to residents' security, and therefore their employment will stop until the tense security situation improves.
"We are going through a difficult time. There is a wave of attacks, and no one can guarantee that that wave is over," Bennett opened his speech. "We are working every day until late at night, including yesterday, to combat terrorism. But you have to know 99.9% of Arab citizens are loyal to the State of Israel. It is only a very small minority acting out against."
"Therefore, the policy of the government of Israel should be a tough hand against terrorists, but extending a hand of embrace to faithful citizens. The hard line I wield against terrorists in the Cabinet will continue with new efforts in light of the security situation. But in my job as Economy Minister, I will not permit harm against any employee on the basis of religion or race. Something like that will not happen in Israel."
Minister Bennett continued, "I have the instructed officials in the Ministry of Economy to step up enforcement against any discrimination-related offense. The test of a true democracy occurs precisely when the security situation is difficult. It is very easy to talk about democracy when everything is wonderful, but our test is to stay a strong democracy even in difficult times."
Meanwhile, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner within the Ministry of Economy, Tziona Koenig-Yair, clarified Thursday morning, that Israeli law clearly prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their nationality, ethnicity, or religion. Hiring or dismissing someone for discriminatory reasons is illegal.
The Commissioner stressed that an employer who dismisses employees because they are Arabs exposes himself to the possibility of legal proceedings from the employees who were discriminated against and from the Equal Employment Commission.
"In these difficult days, I expect employers to take responsibility and leadership by encouraging tolerance and equality of opportunity. I especially expect to see this from local authorities in Ashkelon, whose mayor stated that Arab construction employment is on hold - a decision which stands against the law of equality."
"In addition, local authorities have a public responsibility to all of of their residents - Jews and Arabs alike. Such authorities must lead and remain calm, instead of taking collective measures that could add fuel to the fire. We must all work together to improve the situation, and continue to strive for equality and tolerance toward all citizens of Israel," Koenig-Yair emphasized.
The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission calls on any person who feels he/she has suffered discrimination in the labor market, due to nationality and/or religion, to contact them for thorough legal advice and representation in the appropriate cases.