In principle, Arab Israelis (about 20 per cent of the population) have the same chances as other population and religious groups, because of the ""Equal Opportunities"" law. But they are facing both, direct and indirect forms of discrimination which evade this right. In certain sectors and companies they are not accepted with reference to security, Dr Noah Levine Epstein of Tel Aviv University explicated. While Arab Israelis without full citizenship â€“ often the inhabitants of the refugee camps who merely have the status of residents â€“ hardly have access to the public sector, the discrimination of Arab Israelis with citizenship was very easy to conceal. The legal comments on what counts as employment constraints in security relevant areas were so vague that the scope of interpretation was hardly limited. The economy of Arab Israelis is shaped by such restrictions imposed by the state and by informal constraints. In most cases they live in separate settlements or towns which due to the restrictive settlement and development policy have little or no possibilities to expand and develop. The few towns that have a mixed population and a corresponding economic basis have successively been "de-mixed" â€“ in Nazareth this became very graphic since in the course of the Popeâ€™s visit the entire development funds went into the construction of "Jewish" settlements, while the historical center of Nazareth where most of all Arab Israelis live was missed out. The townscape already shows who belongs to which population and where the wealth "lives". In the urban area of Jerusalem where the "security fence" is partly already in place it became clear what it will mean to the inhabitants of the Arab settlements and the refugee camps, once the fence will be completed: Shuâ€™afat, a camp existing since 1967, where in the beginning 3,000 people lived, is to a large extent already fenced in. As soon as the fence will be erected on its third side adjacent to the urban area, there will be no exit for the meanwhile 23,000 inhabitants, except a small checkpoint. The chances to reach the urban infrastructure, hospitals, schools, nursery schools and jobs, that do not or not sufficiently exist within the camp, will drop rapidly.
Beyond this direct forms of discrimination there are a number of indirect constraints assigning Arab Israelis the role of a cheap reserve for the labor market. As Epstein explicated, 91 per cent of Arab women and about 87 per cent of Arab men have never been a member of a union â€“ compared to 71 and respectively 69 per cent of Jewish Israel. The reasons for this are manifold, but, as Salah Athamneh, for two years organizer at the WAC, reported, it was one of the main problems that even within Arab communities the selling of oneâ€™s own labor was stigmatized. Therefore Arab workers were counting as "zero", a suitable self-consciousness and wish to organize were missing.
Additionally, since 1959 there is the opportunity to become a member of the Histadrut, the federation of workers in Israel (the union was founded as a socialist-Zionist project in 1920), but since the 1980s the union has systematically lost ground and therewith members. Because of its close connection to the Labor Party and the corresponding privileged position in the State of Israel, up till then the Histadrut not only held shares in all essential public enterprises (for example, the airline El Al, hotel chains, hospitals, nursing homes etc.), the union also administered the social funds. Therefore union membership and employment at the union have often been identical. With the privatization and the withdrawal of these tasks the rate of unionization fell enormously, which at its heyday had been about 70 per cent. Today the Histadrut has about 700,000 members left. In principle, said Ghassan Muklashi, director of the "Jewish-Arab Institute" in the Histadrut, the union promotes an equalization of the rights of Arab Israelis, the consistent enforcement of the ban on discrimination and opposes the occupation and closure policy with regards to the Palestinian Territories. He also reported about a fund of the Histadrut granting credits to Arab Israelis for the development of their own projects as well as about a fund for the loss of pay. But for the union work in the field, that is for the organization of the unorganized and therewith the control and improvement of working conditions, they are lacking the resources. The Histadrut were having "to focus on the members who pay dues" â€“ and these happen to be mainly Jewish Israelis.
The problems with the representation and organization of the unorganized are not only due to a shortage in personnel and its reduced financial power. During the conversations with the delegates Muklashi made clear, that as a federation and a national trade union, the Histadrut is facing internal political differences of its members, to which it reacts defensively thus far. Hence, General Secretary Amir Peretz was passing on the device, not to celebrate the First of May in public out of consideration for the Likud members in the Histadrut. One wouldnâ€™t want to stir "superfluous frictions". With regards to the recruitment of labor migrants the Histadrut in fact does take a firm stand: it campaigns for a recruitment ban and thus follows the same line as Netanyahu.
Therefore within the Histadrut the very pattern of hierarchizing the various groups of workers that marks the official employment policy is to be found. Here and there only the ranking in the hierarchy changes, depending on the evaluation of the criteria: security aspects, nationalist considerations and reasons of economy. It is the workers who have lost in this competition, which raises the question of political strategies in dealing with this.