Youssef Atallah, an Arab taxi driver from Jaffa, has successfully challenged an employment policy at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport which was preventing many Arab citizens of Israel from working there. The clause was part of the contract the Hadar taxi company had signed with the Israel Airports Authority (IAA) to operate at Ben-Gurion. It prevented applicants who had no record of army or national service from working for Hadar. Although the condition the IAA had given Hadar referred to “operational employees” and not to drivers, the company applied it across the board.
After initially being turned down for a job due to having no record of reserve duty, Atallah disputed the decision and contacted the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). The EEOC was set up in 2008 to enforce equal opportunities legislation in Israel. About a week ago, after intervention by the EEOC, he was told that he had gotten the job. “I was glad the discriminatory rule had been abolished. I wasn’t trying to come out a winner or be a hero. I just wanted to make a living,” he says.
The 1988 Employment (Equal Opportunities) Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace on a range of different criteria, including race, religion and reservist duty, violation of which can be both a civil and criminal offence. Requiring military service as a prerequisite for a job is considered legitimate – rather than discriminatory – only if it stems from the character or nature of the job. The Foreign Policy Centre, in its 2010 report on how to achieve equality for Israel’s Arab community, highlighted the gap between legislation and implementation as an obstacle for equal opportunities in employment and heralded the formation of the EEOC as having crucial transformative potential for equal employment opportunities in Israel.