Supermarket gets away with firing 21 Arab employees at once

The case, which so far provoked a very minor public response, proved that companies have no reason to fear any reaction for being perceived as discriminatory against Arabs

By Saar Yachin

Last week, one of Israel’s major retail chains, Kimat Hinam (“Almost Free”), dismissed 21 of its employees. It did so by handing all 21 notices to just one employee, requesting that he distribute them among his coworkers on Saturday, when the shop is of course closed. Although unconventional, this was apparently convenient, as they all know each other, all work at the same branch in Modi’in, and are all Arab.

A few days later, the Equal Opportunities Commissioner at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor filed a petition against the termination, citing suspicion of “nationalist motives.” In reply, the retail chain issued a statement, saying that the company was forced to dismiss those employees in light of their “violent behavior,” so severe that other workers expressed “significant concern for their lives.” The statement also clarified that as 23% of Kimat Hinam’s employees are Arabs, it is impossible for the Company to be one “in which discrimination prevails.” Globes further reported (Hebrew) that the dismissal occurred after “15 – 20 Arab workers of the branch behaved wildly, especially following the Fogel family massacre in Itamar.”

The last accusation is hard to take seriously, as it is unspecific in numbers, conforms too well to the fantasy of the hostile “other,” and describes a single event which somehow escalated following the terror attack. It could simply be poorly worded, or it may be a manipulative libel – but in any case it was not included in the company’s official statement. The claims that were included in it, however, do not make much sense either: Twenty-one employees suddenly and jointly posing a threat to the lives of their fellow workers, intimidating those belonging to the ‘vulnerable’ majority – that is hard to believe. Nevertheless, Kimat Hinam’s arguments could have some truth in them, as outlandish as they are, but even if they were to be proven, the company’s conduct would be harder to defend.

What struck me at first about this story was how blunt, unprofessional and irresponsible, businesswise, this action was. How could a company be so incompetent, when its actions are sure to be perceived as blatantly racist, all the more so when it chooses to deliver the notices in such a suspicious and ugly manner? But the sad truth is, that in Israel today, this is not even considered foolish business conduct. In Israel, it is perfectly normal for nationalist (read: racist) considerations to dictate business ventures.

In a more tolerant society, such a move would be considered wrong, because it is not ‘politically correct’, and as discredited as this term may have become, it does point to some healthy social norms. Even if Kimat Hinam’s almost-free-of-plausibility narrative is true, had it happened in a comparable American retail chain, all efforts would be made to avoid giving the impression that workers are being fired on a racial/nationalist basis. At the very least, the workers would be notified personally and individually, and they would probably be entitled to a warning first. Giving consideration to the company’s public image would not be a sign of hypocrisy, but rather an acknowledgement of the healthy values of a society in which racism is frowned upon, and in which it is unprofitable for a corporation to be associated with it.

In Israel, however, companies have no reason to fear any public reaction for being perceived as discriminatory against Arabs. In fact, the opposite is true, as can be seen in the disgusting attempts at boycotting Rami Levy, another retail chain, for its employment of Arabs, which jeopardizes the racial purity of its Jewish employees; proposed ‘kosher’ certificates for businesses which refuse to employ Arabs; and other moves for boycotts, which are now blossoming in abundance in this springtime of bigotry. In such an atmosphere, the owners and managers of this and other businesses can rest assured, that there will be no public outcry, no consumer backlash, or in fact, any outrage at all at such discrimination.

Saar Yachin is a poet and translator living in Mitzpe Ramon