European Union flag flutters outside of the
European Union flag flutters outside of theReuters

Israel’s twinning project with the European Union gave the newly minted Equal Employment Opportunities Commission an opportunity to develop itself based on the years of experience Northern Ireland had had not only with addressing complaints of discrimination’s victims, but also preempting that discrimination by enabling compliance with members of the Northern Irish (and overall British) business-ownership community.

“The twinning project was a two-year-long project and was (entirely) funded by the European Union,” describes Tziona Koenig-Yair, Commissioner of the Israeli EEOC. “We were able to enhance the EEOC in Israel via the experience and stewardship of the EEOC of Northern Ireland.”

The European Union invested nearly 1 million euros under its European Neighborhood Policy which aims to use Europe’s massive resources and stability to foster sustainable development and economic integration with countries geographically close to the Union. Israel is hardly an undeveloped economy, but for its inaugural Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, European organizational experience came in handy.

The project was also seen as an outgrowth of the 2005 EU-Israel Action Plan that sought closer economic and government ties between Jerusalem and Brussels. The Action Plan was originally only intended to cover the first three years of its implementation, the ‘good neighbors’ policy of the European Union has clearly continued the interests of that original strategy.

Several countries’ own commissions had competed for the opportunity to train the new Israeli one. Northern Ireland provided a unique perspective and a compelling bid, being chosen for the partnership. In many ways, according to Koenig-Yair, it has been the best government-to-government bilateral project Israel has been a part of in years.

“Practically speaking, we had someone from the European Union sitting in the office every day. Every month, the representative would bring in an expert.”

That person was Mr. Bob Niven, who was also the former Chief Executive of the Disability Rights Commission in the United Kingdom.

Those experts would cover a number of specialty topics, colored by the spin those representatives’ respective countries created for their respective commissions.

“We had one on raising awareness (of the commission) in Denmark and another involving (both) Irish and Northern Irish experts on strategic planning.”

The EEOC is still a relatively new organization. It has data and statistics with which to work, but part of the project with the European Union was getting the Israeli version of the EEOC organized on the same principles as the European commissions, obviously with a model in the Northern Ireland Equality Commission (NIEC).

According to the European Union’s official website, several of the goals included “to design and deliver an awareness raising strategy; to build accessible databases of key anti-discrimination legal cases in the EU and Israel; to enable employers to assess whether they are achieving fair employment.”

“Another expert came in to discussion establishing a legal database on equality decisions all over Europe and Israel. Another focused on writing and drafting a strategy for cooperation with employers.”

Experts included the Senior Manager for Equal Opportunities at the Northern Irish aerospace company Bombardier, who spoke at one of the conferences the twinning project organized between 2010 and 2012.

Enabling compliance from employers does not just involve compulsion or penalties. The commission has utilized a strategy to change the dialogue between employers and employees.

When Arutz Sheva asked if the apparently deteriorating diplomatic relationship between Europe and Israel had any effect on the project, Koenig-Yair said that it never did. She emphasized that the formal project ended in 2012, but even then when there were some issues it never affected their work.

According to Koenig-Yair, the European Union’s ambassador to Israel had called the project the best partnership that Israel and the continent had managed in its history of mutual cooperation. The reason is simple according to the Commissioner. In many ways, the project never really ended because the two offices – the EEOC and the NIEC – are still in contact with each other.

“It’s the most fruitful cooperation we’ve had in a long time. We have been able maintain partnerships and relationships beyond the project. We are still in contact today with people in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom in general.”