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A Step Back for Palestinian Workers’ Rights and for Israeli Democracy

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Palestinians working at a grove of date palms in the Jordan Valley. Photo Credit: Michal Fattal

Aug. 23, 2016 - Haaretz: Israel’s justice minister has recently instituted a new regulation that will undermine the right of Palestinians living in the West Bank who are employed by Israelis – in Israel or the West Bank – to seek legal redress for abusive and unlawful labor practices. 

The Jewish Labor Committee opposes this new regulation, explicitly designed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, both of the right-wing, pro-settler Habayit Hayehudi party, to prevent Palestinian employees of Israeli businesses from benefiting from Israel’s progressive labor laws. We call on the Knesset and Israel’s Supreme Court to act forthrightly to defend these workers’ just rights to fair labor practices, and nullify the new regulation. 

Under the new requirement, non-citizens will be obligated to make a monetary deposit before submitting a lawsuit against an employer in Israeli labor court, unless they can immediately present evidence proving their claim. If they cannot do so, the deposit will be forfeited. Such a measure would primarily affect Palestinians living in the West Bank – most notably those who work on Israeli-owned farms in the Jordan Valley, who will greatly suffer the consequences – by placing a heavy financial burden on those who seek to sue their Israeli employers for labor-law violations. Israeli farmers in the valley, who in the past have been sued for labor law violations, have applauded this new measure.  

As an organization that cares about Israel’s future as a democratic and progressive society, this matters to us, and should matter to others as well. 

In 2007, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in the interest of 30,000 West Bank Palestinians who work for Israeli businesses in the West Bank. Most Palestinians employed by Israelis in settlements became entitled to the protection of Israeli labor law. But this protection is threatened by the new regulation being promulgated by Minister Shaked. Israel’s Knesset and/or Supreme Court must act immediately to overturn this regulation, and allow these workers continued access to the same legal protections as their Israeli counterparts. 

Two years ago, an investigative report in TheMarker on Palestinian workers in the Jordan Valley revealed that they are denied such basic rights as a pay slip, minimum wage, vacation time and sick days. Also, since there are no written labor contracts, farmers can fire employees at will. Workers who realized that these conditions violate Israeli labor laws have hired lawyers and sued for their rights in Israeli labor courts. 

According to MK Moalem-Refaeli, the new regulation will help Jordan Valley farmers combat this “unjust” development.

Justice Minister Shaked, meanwhile, claims that this measure does not require a Knesset review, but it is possible that the Supreme Court will subject this matter to further legal scrutiny. 
 
We strongly oppose this special new regulation. Forcing Palestinian employees of Israeli businesses to jump through hoops to benefit from Israel’s generally progressive labor laws is contrary to these workers’ basic rights. It will only embitter their lives, providing yet another obstacle to rapprochement between Palestinians and Israelis, and the possibility of serious negotiations toward a viable two-state solution to the conflict.
 
To do otherwise would be contrary to the fundamental humanitarian needs of these Palestinian workers, and contrary as well to the best traditions of Israel’s proud history of advancing the rights of working people – both Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel – through its legacy of trade unionism and labor-oriented political parties. 
 
To do otherwise would reinforce a social and political regime in the West Bank that enforces one set of laws for Israelis and another, inferior, set of regulations for Palestinians living in the West Bank.
 
To do otherwise would further undermine Israel’s standing as a democracy and a progressive society, and erode support for Israel in general in the international court of public opinion.