The government will do its part to provide infrastructure to help integrate
Israel’s Arab citizens into the workforce, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
said on Tuesday, but specified that the community must do its fair
“We’ll invest in the national infrastructure. I want you to invest
in your personal infrastructure,” he said at the third annual Prime Minister’s
Conference on economic issues at Tel Aviv University, this year focusing on Arab
“When we say an equal society, it’s both in terms of
obligations and rights,” he said.
While it is incumbent on the government
to provide roads, education and safety, Netanyahu said, it is important to
inspire a sense of entrepreneurship and possibility within the Arab community.
To that end, he announced that at next year’s conference, he would meet with
promising female Arab entrepreneurs and business students.
His focus on
Arab women was not coincidental; despite overall good economic conditions in
Israel, the low participation of Arab women (and haredi men) in the labor force
represents a long-term danger for the economy.
Whereas nearly 70 percent
of the general population participates in the labor force, only 29% of Arab
women do. Fiftyseven percent of Arabs live below the poverty line, and while
they represent only 20.4% of the population today, Arabs and haredi Jews already
account for more than half of the country’s first-graders.
demographic trends, if these populations are not brought into the workforce,
Israel can expect to lose 1.3% of annual economic growth, head toward
unsustainable debt levels, and build social unrest as economic inequality rises
to the highest level in the developed world.
Throughout the meeting,
ministers and economic leaders representing the breadth of the government gave
their perspectives and touted their plans for fixing the obstacles of
integrating Israeli Arabs into the economy.
“We want to break the glass
wall,” Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett declared, calling on Israeli
businesses to set prejudice aside in their hiring practices.
of affirmative action programs, the free-market- oriented Bennett said he had
come to the conclusion that the government had a role to play in bridging gaps
among the sectors.
“Don’t give up on us as a state, and we won’t give up
on you,” he promised.
In a discussion on the business sector’s
responsibilities for diversifying its workforce, leaders from Intel, Super
Pharm, Teva and Strauss, among other companies, were adamant that incorporating
Arabs and other minorities into their workforces increased their overall
Economy and Trade Ministry Deputy Director Michal Tzuk
noted that the government could help by ensuring that its own supply chain
included small and medium businesses from the Arab sector. Given its buying
power, the government could help Arabs establish themselves in the
In her first public speech since being nominated Bank of Israel
governor, Karnit Flug said that Israel must deal with the problem of
discrimination or suffer the economic and social consequences.
addition to increasing education and training, Flug said, “the incidence of
discrimination must also not be ignored, and we know that the Arab public has
difficulty integrating into certain industries, even if the appropriate training
She called out the hi-tech sector in particular, where she
said that even well-trained Israeli Arabs had trouble successfully
“The Arab population in Israel contains immense untapped
potential from the standpoint of the Israeli economy’s growth capability,” she
continued. “Integrating the Arab public into the labor market in particular, and
into the economy in general, is a very important, even essential, component of
the Israeli economy’s ability to continue to grow, and to support a higher
standard of living for all Israelis.”
During a panel on the future of
education and higher learning, Education Minister Shai Piron said that the
Israeli system “has not properly handled education for the Arab
“The gaps between the sectors are a moral stain on Israeli
society,” he stated. “We can and need to fix it.”
Piron also formulated
his main objectives in strengthening education in the Arab sector, which include
employing “the best people in the sector” to lead the Arab learning system;
adapting the curriculum to the 21st century; and creating frameworks to
accompany pupils outside of school.
“It’s not just the question of what
happens from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., but from 2 p.m. on,” the minister said, promising
to do “whatever it takes” to provide Arabs with a quality
Touching on a recurring theme of the conference, the chairman
of the Council for Higher Education’s budgeting and planning committee, Manuel
Trajtenberg, said that geographic separation was an impediment for improving
Arab attendance in institutions of higher learning.
Trajtenberg also had
a message for Diaspora Jews who donated to causes in the Jewish state: “If a Jew
abroad wants to help the State of Israel, he must help the entire State of
Israel, not just the majority.”