Towards the end of September, I discovered a US State Dept.-sponsored training program for Middle East entrepreneurs that was accepting Israeli Arabs, but not Israeli Jews. The program, called Middle East Entrepreneur Training (MEET), had a number of tracks for application, and made it clear that they were particularly interested in female applicants. After verifying that I indeed was a female living in the Middle East, I made a fuss, and thanks to the work of some intrepid journalists, the acceptance conditions for the program were immediately changed, and I applied.
About a month later, I was called in for an interview in some State Dept. offices in Tel Aviv. I gracefully fell down the stairs to our parking lot on the way out, badly twisting my ankle. I almost didn’t go for the interview since I could barely drive, but I decided to press my luck anyway.
What are you most proud of?
The interview consisted of me facing a panel of four anonymous people for less than 15 minutes while they asked me colorful questions. It would have been nice if they had introduced themselves, but later on I found out that one of the panelists was the guy who had been dealing with all the flack from the ruckus about them not accepting Israeli Jews, and despite that he was surprisingly nice.
They asked me the types of questions I haven’t been asked for years, like “What have you done that you are most proud of?” Israelis ask such tachlis (to-the-point) questions when they’re interviewing someone, like “Oh, so you’re from Canada originally. Do you know my friend Dudu? He lived in Ottawa for about 10 months,” that I wasn’t prepared for these American-type questions.
The interview went so quickly that we kind of just looked at each other at the end, so I made sure to fill in the silence by telling them that I had fallen down the stairs on the way there, to give them a better feel for the type of person I am.
You’re lucky number 25!
I guess I did ok, because this past Friday I got my acceptance letter. (Either that, or they had to accept an Israeli Jew now, and I was the only applicant.) The letter said that I was one of 25 applicants who had been accepted out of 900. This made me feel very special. They also said the program had been postponed from May until August. That made me feel very relieved, since it gives me more time to figure out if I will actually go or not.
Why wouldn’t I go? Because it’s being held in Amman, Jordan, and despite the peace we have with the Hashemite Kingdom on paper, the Israeli National Security Council has a serious travel warning against visiting Jordan. Really serious. I mean, they are basically saying “If you are currently in Jordan, you better get the f*** out of there and run for your life.”
In the meantime, I’m hoping to learn some Arabic (Sabah al-hir – that’s supposed to mean “good morning”) and renew my Canadian passport.
Who could possibly hate a Canadian?
(I mean, besides you. And you. Ok, you too. You there, sit down and stop waving your hands!)
Update: A few interesting things have happened since I wrote this article. 1. The Beyster Institute has taken down all the pages I have linked to here. But they can’t beat Google! If you want to see them, simply paste the URL in your Google search box, and on the results page, click on “Cached” to see them. Contact me if you have any questions. I’ve also saved the pages on my hard drive. 2. A reporter contacted me for a story on this issue, and told me that “coincidentally” the Beyster Institute is redoing their program requirements, and now ALL Israelis are welcome to apply! Well, I’ll be applying, and I invite those of you believe you are suitable candidates to apply as well.
In the past, if I had noticed this and wanted to protest it, I would have had to write letters and fax news outlets, politicians, etc. and hope that someone cared. Chances of making change would have been slim to none for a mother-of -five-small-business-owner sitting in Jerusalem, and if any change were made, it would have taken weeks or months. But the Internet has changed all that. I started writing about this yesterday afternoon, and in less than 24 hours the injustice was resolved. I can’t prove that it’s not coincidence, but assuming it’s not, then apparently we all have the power to make change. A single letter or blog post CAN make a difference.
As a follower of all things related to Israeli business, I was excited to discover a program geared towards training Middle Eastern entrepreneurs, Israelis included. The program, Middle East Entrepreneur Training, is hosted at the Beyster Institute, and heavily supported by the US State Department, and is described as follows:
“The Middle East Entrepreneur Training (MEET) program is an innovative training program designed to identify, develop and sustain a new core of leaders in business and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.”
The Application and Selection Process page states that “The MEET program does not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, color, age, religion [my bold], national origin, or handicap. This policy is consistent with all relevant U.S. government statutes and regulations.”
Great! I’m a female Middle Eastern entrepreneur, and I even run a social program aimed at strengthening the Israeli small business community: exactly what they’re looking for, so I got ready to apply.
But then I came across the eligibility requirements:
“Applications will be accepted from citizens of the following countries and territories: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel (limited to Israeli Arab citizens) [my bold], Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, West Bank/Gaza and Yemen.”
These criteria are not listed on the MEET site, but on various US Embassy sites across the Middle East.
Limited to Israeli Arab citizens?
This is the equivalent of stating that they accept applicants from Iraq (limited to Sunnis), Lebanon (limited to Christians), and Jordan (limited to Palestinians). Imagine the uproar if that were the case.
Let’s look further at the problematic nature of the application requirements:
- The program is backed by the US State Dept., and explicitly states that they will not discriminate based on race or religion. By stating that only Israelis from a certain race are eligible, they are blatantly discriminating against Israelis of other races.
- I have heard the argument that Israeli Arabs need democracy training. Israeli Arabs are educated in Israel-sponsored schools that teach their children courses in “Citizenship,” just like Jewish children, which cover the principles and ethics behind democracy. Israeli Arabs vote, get the same free health care as everyone else, state-sponsored education, and all the other social benefits all Israelis enjoy. Israeli Arab women enjoy rights here that they couldn’t dream of anywhere else. See this post on Israeli Arab businesswomen for an example of what they can achieve in Israel.
- I have heard that Israeli Arabs are more in need. According to poverty surveys in Israel, Haredim and Arabs tend to equally make up those below the poverty line in Israel. Also, in these surveys, “Arabs” include Beduin and Druze too. Someone was told by someone involved in the institute that this program is not open to Christians, Beduin and Druze Israelis either, allegedly to demonstrate how the program is not anti-semitic (ok, now it’s anti-Israel-supporters). But if the argument is that the program is geared to helping needy Arabs in Israel, then it must include Arabs of all religious persuasion. Not only that, I’m sure many other poverty-stricken populations in Israel could use some help in gaining economic independence: single-parent families, handicapped, development town residents (Sderot anybody â€“ they seem a bit in need).
- I have heard the argument that when programs refer to the Middle East, they mean all countries except Israel, since Israel is generally considered “European.” First of all, Israel is not European, and we are not part of the EU. But let’s say that is the case â€“ then they should not accept Israeli Arabs, since they are just as “European” as we all are. (Does that mean I can start charging clients in Euros?)
How do you determine an Arab’s religious beliefs?
So if it is correct that they are only accepting Israeli Arabs, and only Israeli Arabs that are not Christian, Beduin or Druze, how do they make sure that they are rejecting applicants from the “wrong” religions? They can’t do it according to their names (i.e. if they wanted to differentiate Jewish from Arab applicants, they could just throw out all the Itziks and Dudus and keep the Mohammeds and the Azizes).
Maybe they have a special question for religious screening on the application:
Question 25: What would you say best describes you:
- I pray five times a day.
- I am eagerly awaiting the Second Coming.
- I believe I am a reincarnation of my great uncle Abdul.
Woe unto those who believe in b and c.
I have contacted the Beyster Institute, Dr. Beyster, and the US State Department, and they all replied that they will immediately correct this injustice. Yeah right! I haven’t heard back from any of them.
The Middle Eastern Theatre of the Absurd continuesâ€¦