This study reveals tensions between Jews and Arabs in the Israeli Social Workers’ Union, examining the characteristics, experiences and functioning of the Arab minority representatives over the years until the recent election of a new radical socialist-feminist leadership. Data were elicited from semi-structured in-depth interviews with Arab delegates to the union. It was found that the policies of the union’s institutions discriminate against Arab social workers in three dimensions: (1) under-representation in all its organs, including participation in paid staff in the headquarters and district offices; (2) lack of attention to Arab workers’ voice in the union’s published platforms; and (3) lack of consideration of Arab social workers’ unique needs in programmes more appropriate for Jews. The union fails in its role as the formal and exclusive representative of Arab social workers, who suffer from discriminatory government consideration, including unequal budgeting, lack of recognition and lack of participation in decision making.
The article traces social work’s development in Israel’s Palestinian society from 2007 until a reform of the welfare bureaus in 2018, based on primary and secondary written sources, interviews with Palestinian social workers employed at the time, and a survey of social workers throughout the country’s Palestinian local authorities. Despite gains, social work in this society continued to face historical government-based obstacles to its professionalisation, namely, significantly reduced resources compared to its Jewish counterpart, absence of the Palestinian narrative in service provision and lack of Palestinian representation in policy formulation. The result was a continuing dual welfare system: one for the country’s Jewish citizens; and a significantly more restricted one for their Palestinian compatriots.