So says Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s so-called finance minister who has no previous experience with finance. Steinitz had this to say about why so many Palestinian Israeli women are unemployed:
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz…said at a recent conference on discrimination that Arab society in Israel is partially responsible for the low levels of employment for Arab women.
…The finance minister added that the low rate of participation of Arab women in the labor market was characteristic of societies in Arab countries.
…The “cultural obstacles, traditional frameworks and the belief that Arab women have to remain in their hometowns hold back this population’s integration in the work force.”
There are a few problems with Steinitz’s claim, namely that the facts get in the way. The Israeli NGO Sikkuy has done a survey of college-educated Palestinian Israeli women and found that 11,ooo are out of work. A separate study found that 58% of these say they want to work but cannot find a job. Only 29% say they are not working for cultural reasons. 21% of Palestinian Israeli women work while 51% of Israeli women overall work. The former figure compares unfavorably to other Arab countries. Even Saudi Arabia and Oman, two of the least likely nations in which to find women working, the percentages are 29 and 27%. The numbers are even higher in Morocco (41%) and Mauritania (63%).
What does this mean? Besides meaning that Yuval Steinitz knows next to nothing about the conditions in which fully 20% of Israeli citizens live and that he seeks to absolve his ministry of any responsibility for their problems, it means that Israel places huge barriers in the path of Palestinian Israelis who wish to work:
…The poor infrastructure and almost total absence of public transit to and from the Arab villages play a central role in the women’s social exclusion and have a negative effect on their ability – though not their desire – to join the work force.
A 2007 survey by the Kayan feminist organization for Arab women in Israel found that the public transit to and from 11 Arab communities in the Galilee and the Triangle region was less developed than the transportation in other parts of the country. The buses do not usually enter the Arab villages, forcing passengers to get on and off the bus at junctions leading to the villages. In addition, the buses only come in the early morning and at the end of the work day. For the most part, the buses run on main thoroughfares and through Jewish towns, and there is only one bus that serves a number of Arab villages, making the ride slow and tedious.
To this must be added the shortage of government employment assistance – there are only 14 Employment Service branches in Arab communities – and the lack of suitable employment training programs. Other factors that contribute to the low employment rate include the shortage of day-care centers in Arab towns (of 1,600 day-care centers for children under 3 that receive government assistance, only 25 operate in Arab communities) and government-supported industrial zones (only 3.2 percent are in Arab areas). In addition, Arab women constitute a mere 3 percent of civil servants, even though the civil service is the largest employer of women in Israel.
A number of right-wing readers here have propounded the same “explanations” as Steinitz for poverty among Israeli Arabs. This Haaretz article, written by Himmat Zoabi, coordinator of the Gender Studies Project at Mada al-Carmel (Haifa), the Arab Center for Applied Social Research, gives the lie to this entirely bogus claim. For a more detailed look at this subject, see her report Palestinian Women in the Israeli Labor Market (pdf).