In a special parliamentary session on the matter, Olmert said: "It is terrible that there is not even one Arab employee at the Bank of Israel (out of 900 employees) and that in the Israel Electric Company Arabs constitute fewer than 1% of all workers."
"The issue of integrating Arab employees into the public service has been occupying me greatly," he said. "The gap between their ratio in the population and their integration into the public service arouses concern and unease."
The prime minister said that over the years the State maintained a policy of discrimination, thereby creating a vicious cycle. On the one hand, the Arab community was unable to create management mechanisms, while on the other hand, Israeli governments deprived Arabs of rights that could help them improve their quality of life, he said.
"I feel great discomfort over the fact that the State conducted itself improperly for many years, and should have made a fundamental change," he said. "We have not yet overcome the obstacle of discrimination. This is deliberate discrimination, and the gap is intolerable. There is no arguing that some government ministries did not hire Arabs for years."
However, Olmert noted that despite the grim situation, "the government I headed did more than any other government to change this state of affairs."
Tibi: Olmert's remarks unprecedented
Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) told Ynet after the session, "The prime minister's sincere remarks are significant. The prime minister's appearance before such a committee is unprecedented.
"I'm not certain the Israeli public is familiar with the bleak facts, but the prime minister is well aware of them and shows proper insight into the situation."
According to Tibi, "Fewer than 6% of the civil servants are Arab and less than 4% work in the health system. This is a low percentage which constitutes half of the threshold set by the government. Integrating Arab citizens into the public-private sector is a moral statement which must be implemented."
At the end of the meeting, Tibi asked Olmert to look into the following solution: Each ministry will appoint at least one Arab worker to a senior position in 2009, and a plan aiming to integrate Arab workers into every government company until 2012 will be created within three months.
Tibi also suggested that the Civil Service Commission and government offices be instructed to appoint at least 15% of their Arab workers to senior administration positions. He asked the prime minister to hold a special government meeting by the end of 2008 which would discuss this issue with Treasury and Bank of Israel officials and the country's industrialists. Olmert promised to look into the proposal.