The Committee on Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs on Tuesday heard complaints that kosher certifications of restaurants are being revoked because they employ new immigrants.
Committee Chairman MK Avraham Neguise (Likud) stressed that it is illegal to discriminate against anyone in employment, school, wages, or kosher certification, regardless of whether the person is a new immigrant or a long-time resident of Israel. He also noted that in 2016 the average salary of Ethiopians in Israel amounted to 59% of the overall average salary.
MK Yoel Razvozov (Yesh Atid) called the phenomenon a “disgrace” and called to dismiss those responsible, while MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) mentioned that “the demand for proof of Jewishness in the food industry was introduced when the immigration from the Commonwealth of Independent States began,” adding that she was proud to be one of the founders of “Hashgacha Pratit” (Private Supervision), an organization that offers alternative kashrut supervision for restaurants and businesses.
According to MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Camp), revoking the kosher certificates of restaurants that employ new immigrants “constitutes racism and severe discrimination, and it must be eradicated as soon as possible.” MK Tali Ploskov (Kulanu) said that “discriminating against someone based on his or her name, which only sounds Russian, is wrong and repulsive. We are citizens of Israel, and we are entitled to equal treatment, like all citizens.” MK Yulia Malinovsky (Yisrael Beitenu) argued that “anyone who comes in contact with the Chief Rabbinate does not like them; you should check yourselves. In certain areas the treatment is fair. There must be a balance between the kashrut requirements and the proper treatment of people.”
Attorney Eden Avraham of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the Justice Ministry said that of the 700 complaints the Commission receives each year, only 4% pertain to ethnicity-based discrimination in employment. Most of the complaints are filed by Ethiopian Israelis. Most complaints of Israelis who immigrated from the Commonwealth of Independent States are submitted to Members of Knesset, according to the attorney.
According to Amichai Kreiger, head of the Chief Rabbinate’s Kashrut Fraud Division, the Jewishness of an employee in the food industry affects the measure of kashrut at the place of business. “Obviously, there are many non-Jewish workers in the food industry, and those who do not prepare food need not be Jewish. These procedures are anchored in regulations that were approved by the Knesset in 1988 in the framework of the Law Against Kashrut Fraud, way before the immigration from the Commonwealth of Independent States,” he said.
Attorney Eliezer Rudin, legal adviser for the Karmiel Religious Council, said the Rabbinate does not intervene in the hiring of workers, and workers who do not work in the kitchen “may be of any nationality.”
“The Halacha states that kosher food must be prepared by Jews,” he told the committee.
But Jerusalem Religious Council Chairman Yehoshua Yishai said, “According to the Halacha, only the person who cooks the food must be Jewish; the other workers do not have to be Jewish. Kashrut is a privilege – for those who are interested in it. A kashrut supervisor who makes a comment to a worker based on the worker’s ethnicity will be fired.”