Fischer: Economic success needs more Arab participation

“Fact that there are skilled and trained people [in Arab sector] who can't work in professions that use those skills is a waste.”

March 23, 2011 05:44
2 minute read.
The Jerusalem Post

58_Stanley Fischer. (photo credit: Bloomberg)

Increasing the relatively low rate of Arab participation in the labor force will be one of the keys to the success of the Israeli economy in the coming years, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer said Tuesday.

Speaking at the annual Prime Minister’s Conference of the Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab, Druse and Circassian sectors, which was held in Jaffa, Fischer said, “The fact that there are skilled and trained people [in the Arab sector] who cannot work in professions that use those skills is a waste for the market, not just for them.”

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He explained that “as economists, we are supposed to look at things with level-headedness, but one looks at this economy and its rates of poverty and its low rates of [Arab] male and female participation, [and] it’s a waste of resources that [if reserved] could aid in the success of the market.”

Fischer said that increasing employment opportunities for Arab women was particularly important, citing statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showing that participation of Arab women in the Israeli labor force stands at just 24.7 percent, compared to 58% in the haredi community, 64.2% in the general Israeli population, and the OECD average of 61% female labor force participation.

He said it would take many years to smooth out the inequalities, but that it was possible because the Arab population “proves every day that they want to help themselves, and so it’s our role to help them too.”

Fischer praised the authority’s director, Aiman Saif, for organizing the conference. He added that he was pleased to see the participation of so many important figures, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, several government ministers, mayors of various Jewish and Arab municipalities, and leading businesspeople.

He listed several tasks that he said must be carried out if progress is to be made in the Arab sector. This included implementing legal measures against discrimination, encouraging business owners to employ Arabs, and improving the physical proximity of workplaces to Arab population centers.

Speaking before Fischer, Geocartography research institute chairman Prof. Avi Dgani presented his “Integration index for the national economy,” which measures the success rate of investments and other projects in minority communities by comparing several Arab and Druse municipalities to outlying Jewish municipalities of roughly the same size.

The index found that Arab households were more satisfied with their economic situation than their Jewish counterparts were, even though the existing commercial supply to Jewish towns indicated a higher rate of modernization. The index also found that 74% of Arabs and Druse are employed within the Arab and Druse sectors, while just 26% are employed by businesses in the Jewish sector.

Aside from keynote speeches by Fischer, Netanyahu and others, four panels were held during the day on topics including the role of hi-tech in empowering the Israeli Arab sector, and a discussion on local municipalities.

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