Affirmative Action for Chareidim Rejected by Knesset

YERUSHALAYIM -

A bill aimed to help chareidim find jobs proposed by United Torah Judaism MK Rabbi Meir Porush was rejected by the Knesset plenum by a vote of 40-24 after a heated debate.

The bill came in response to incessant demands by secular politicians and journalists that chareidim join the work force, while ignoring widespread discrimination in hiring in both the public and private sectors. Rabbi Porush cited similar legislation already on the books in Israel which protect other minorities, such as Ethiopians, Israeli Arabs and Druse, from discrimination.

Passage of such a law for chareidim would be an important step forward toward the much-talked-about goal of bringing the population into the labor market, he said.

“I think this bill will show if we really do want to integrate those chareidim who have decided that they are not able to continue to study Torah and want to integrate into the workforce, [and if there is] a real will to help those chareidim, or whether this whole issue … is just a way to create arguments with the chareidi population.”

Rabbi Porush stressed that the law would only give preference to chareidi job candidates with the necessary qualifications for positions in government offices and the civil service.

In presenting the bill to the Knesset plenum, he gave the example of dozens of young chareidim who had earned law degrees in recent years but experienced significant problems in being accepted into positions in the State Attorney’s Office, despite their qualifications.

In addition, he cited a report from the Economics Ministry that said chareidi job-seekers with equal academic qualifications were granted fewer job interviews than applicants from the non-chareidi public.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni —among those who clamor for the chareidim to “go to work” — took the podium to explain the government’s opposition to the bill, and denied that discrimination against chareidim exists at all.

Instead, she blamed the situation on the chareidim themselves. “[But] this stems from, among other reasons, your unwillingness to integrate into Israeli life.”

However, Dr. Chaim Zicherman, a non-chareidi researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute on its Project on Religion and State, told The Jerusalem Post that he agreed that discrimination against chareidim in the workplace does indeed exist.

Zicherman noted that very few members of the chareidi community are currently employed in the civil service, and that affirmative action would help to integrate them into the workforce.