After years of trying to attract foreign [read: Asian] workers to Israel, the country seems to be reversing policy… at least when it comes to Asian restaurants. Today’s Ha’aretz reports that in an attempt to create more jobs for native Israelis, Israel’s government plans to decrease the number of work permits it issues to Asian chefs by about 50% next year and then stop issuing the permits altogether the following year. In response, Asian restaurants across Israel have declared a “spring roll strike,” to be followed by sushi and noodle strikes in coming weeks. Israeli Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor lawyer Shoshana Strauss was quoted in Ha’aretz with the brilliant line, “Everyone can make Chinese food it’s not impossible to learn.”
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. On a purely culinary level this is absurd. Israel’s Asian food already tends toward the awful. So awful, in fact, that senior Chinese Embassy official Xuan Chan broke with diplomatic protocol a few years ago and publicly called Israeli Chinese restaurants “disgusting.” (Thai, Chinese, and to a lesser extent Japanese food in Israel seems to mean sauteed meat and veggies or noodles with either a fluorescent pink or yellow sugary sauce dumped on top. Sushi is definitely better, but could be better.) If Asian chefs are currently cooking in Israel’s Asian restaurants– which I’m skeptical about, at least in half of the Asian places I’ve been to– they’re cooking to perceived local tastes, not to Asian standards. I’m doubtful that Israeli chefs would do better. I’m also somewhat skeptical that there are 900 (the number of Asian chef permits currently issued by the government) Israelis who’d be thrilled to jump into an Asian cooking job retraining program, should the government dream one up, which is also highly unlikely, but who knows.
Anyone else want to comment on Israeli labor policy vis-a-vis foreign and Palestinian workers?
Asian restaurants across the country went on a one-day spring roll strike on Tuesday in protest over government plans to rid kitchens of foreign chefs, and said sushi and noodles would be the next items off the menu.
The restaurants are angry at the state’s plans to purge Japanese, Chinese and Thai eateries of Asian cooks and replace them with Israelis as part of a broader program to cut the number of foreigners working in Israel.
The Ethnic Restaurant Organization said the country’s 300 Asian restaurants refused to serve spring or egg rolls – among their most popular dishes – on Tuesday, and planned a follow-up strike in two weeks for sushi and noodles.
“Today there is no egg roll and in two weeks time there will be no sushi and noodles,” Arnon Volosky, head of the organization, told Reuters.
Israel attracts virtually no immigrants from Asia since anyone seeking citizenship here must prove they have Jewish family or links to the country.
Seeking to plug a gap in the labor market during the first Palestinian uprising, Israel allowed foreigners to work in the state. But now it is trying to limit those numbers to create more jobs for Israelis.
This year the government is granting 500 permits to Asian chefs compared with 900 last year. Next year no permits will be issued, although restaurants willing to pay twice the average national salary will be allowed to employ chefs as “experts”.
The government argues Israelis can be trained.
“Everyone can make Chinese food it’s not impossible to learn,” said Shoshana Strauss, a lawyer working on foreign worker issues for the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor.
Asian restaurants first started dishing up chicken chow mein and Thai green curry to Israelis about 30 years ago and have evolved into a 1-billion-shekels-a-year industry.
Sushi has proved a massive hit, particularly in the secular coastal metropolis of Tel Aviv and the city’s 100th sushi restaurant opened last month.
Volosky said his organization had asked the Supreme Court to force the government to rethink the decision, arguing it could force many out of business or make them inflate prices to cover the salaries needed to secure “expert” visas for chefs.