Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Prejudice against Charedim in the Workplace

There seems to be a lot of prejudice in Israel. At least in job market. Arabs, Ethiopians, and Charedim seem to be shunned by employers. Prejudice of any kind is abhorrent to me. Hating people based on faulty generalizations is morally reprehensible. This applies to all the above mentioned groups. But what concerns me the most is the fact that Charedim are in this group.

Not that the other two categories are any more justifiable. They are not. But because Charedim are my people – religious Jews who make great sacrifices to remain religious and have contributed much to the spiritual state of the country. And it seems they are being socially punished for it in the job market.

From an article in Ha’artez:

Some 58 percent of managers prefer not to hire Haredic academics, and 53 percent of them would rather not hire Ethiopians, the report said…

...their chances of receiving a promotion are slim, despite qualifications and success rates. Some 86 percent of the research participants said that they would rather not promote Haredic employees…

One can perhaps explain if not justify the prejudice against Arabs. To a lesser extent one can explain the prejudice against Ethiopians – skin color has always been a factor in prejudice. That is an even greater injustice.

But why Charedim? I recall reading a story about a secular employer who preferred Charedi employees because of their reputation for honesty and integrity. For not ever cheating their employers out of anything. Rarely coming late or leaving early from work. Being the most dedicated to their jobs….

How does this anecdote square with these statistics?

Another question that begs an answer is why are Datim not discriminated against? No where in the article does it make that claim at all. The article did not mention Datim. I would conclude that Datim are treated more or less the same as secular Jews in the workplace - hired and promoted in the same percentages.

The fact that Datim are not discriminated against suggest that the prejudice is not based on hatred of Torah – or more precisely those who are observant of Torah. There is something else at play here. What that might be is food for thought. However the fact that there may be explanations does not make it any less immoral. Prejudice is immoral by very definition. It means prejudging someone unfavorably without knowing anything about him.

Now I am not blaming the victim here. Not any more than I would blame a scantily clad woman for being raped.

But I would humbly suggest that a little self examination by the Charedi world might help explain the situation. Not justify it. Just explain it. What is it about Charedim that makes employers so reluctant to hire them? …and if they do hire them - reluctant to promote them? Is it their vilification in the media? Is it vilification by leftist type government officials? Can it even be an occasional vilification by Dati Jews? I think there is some merit to those explanations. But in my view a lot of the prejudice is self generated.

It begins in Meah Shearim and extends to places like Bnei Brak, Ramat Bet Shemesh, and Beitar. The image one conjures up when one says ‘Charedim’ is not of thousands of students sitting an learning diligently. It is not of the numerous charities that they are responsible for… charities that do not discriminate between Charedim and Dati; religious and non religious. It is not Zaka or Hatzalah. The image a Charedi conjures up these days is like the fellow in the picture. One picture like this and it obliterates all the good that community does.

And then there are the religious legislators whose image is one of shoving religion down everyone’s throat. Or extorting money from the government for their causes - much of them having to do with supporting those who learn Torah, do not serve in the army, or work productively. Perhaps this is what is on the mind of the Israeli employer who refuses to hire Charedim.

I realize of course that an educated Charedi who is professionally trained on par with his secular counterparts whether in universities business schools or professional schools - is as far being part of those images as is fire from water.

Most Charedim abhor what the residents of Meah Shearim do. Nor do they have anything to do with religious legislation in the Kenesset . And though that makes all the difference in the wolrd - once Charedism becomes identified with violence and political extortion - then all Charedim are tainted by it. That is prejudice. Unfair? Absolutely! But understandable and unavoidable in a world where prejudice drives action and reaction.

The best way to get things changed is to change the realities. Public attention to the bad can only be reversed if the bad stops happening. Once that happens – maybe the good will start being noticed more. Charedim have a lot to be admired for. And their work ethic and integrity is very high as the above anecdote shows. And it will show more if things change. Once you admire a community for its achievements, it will be easy hiring people from it.