For­eign Work­ers in Israel: Glob­al Perspectives

Israel Drori
  • Review
By – January 9, 2012

Most peo­ple who wor­ry about the future of Israel wor­ry about threats that come from the out­side. They wor­ry about Arab ter­ror and about Iran’s nukes. This new book by Israel Drori is dif­fer­ent because it brings into focus a seri­ous threat from with­in, the threat of the for­eign workers. 

For­eign work­ers are per­mit­ted into Israel to work. The process, now an indus­try, sprang up because Israelis refused to do cer­tain types of work that they con­sid­ered to be beneath them. At the same time, Israelis did not want Arabs to do the work, either because they felt uncom­fort­able ask­ing them or because the Arabs pre­sent­ed a threat to their secu­ri­ty. Most of the work involves house clean­ing, car­ing for the elder­ly and infirm, and agri­cul­ture work. 

For­eign work­ers are not phys­i­cal threats. For­eign work­ers do not become ter­ror­ists. So what is the dan­ger? The num­ber of for­eign work­ers now in Israel is so very large that it has become a threat to the con­cept of a demo­c­ra­t­ic state of Jews. 

Drori esti­mates that there are over 600,000 for­eign work­ers in Israel today. Some esti­mates put that num­ber clos­er to 900,000. Among those work­ers, 60% are not legal work­ers. There are about six mil­lion Jews and sev­en mil­lion cit­i­zens in Israel. Do the math. One in every sixth per­son now in Israel is a for­eign work­er and one in every eleventh per­son is a for­eign work­er who is in Israel ille­gal­ly. That makes Israel the sec­ond largest for­eign employ­er in the world. (The first is Switzerland.) 

Drori explores crit­i­cal issues. Espe­cial­ly because many of these work­ers are ille­gal, from as far away as Chi­na, Thai­land, and the Philip­pines, the state offers them no pro­tec­tion, and they are often exploit­ed. Israel was cre­at­ed on a prin­ci­ple of Jew­ish labor; this has been replaced with a sys­tem that hov­ers between exploita­tive and ille­gal. That is nei­ther the Jew­ish way, nor an eth­i­cal way.

Mic­ah D. Halpern is a colum­nist and a social and polit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor. He is the author of What You Need To Know About: Ter­ror, and main­tains The Mic­ah Report at www​.mic​ah​halpern​.com.

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