How to improve the economic conditions of minority populations is a challenge
for any democracy, all the more so for one as young as Israel. The country’s
non-governmental organizations devoted to advancing Jewish-Arab relations have
long advocated concrete steps to integrate Arab citizens into the nation’s
In recent years some government officials have called for
measures to increase the numbers of qualified Arab workers.
that the government itself can play a positive role, the Prime Minister’s Office
(PMO) last month launched a public campaign to encourage private employers to
hire Arab citizens. A two-week ad blitz on TV, radio, Internet sites and in
newspapers, as well as featuring the campaign on the PMO website, aimed to
convey to the Israeli public, Jews and Arabs alike, that the government
considers promoting Arab employment a priority.
The TV ad showed a young
man at an interview for a job as an architect. The smiling interviewer imagines
the prospective employee as excelling, drawing much admiration as he designs
But the employer’s pleasant dream suddenly ends when
he glances at the top of the resume and sees the Arab name.
“It would be
a shame to forgo the right employee for the wrong reasons,” concludes the TV ad.
The campaign’s message is so simple. Should an individual’s ethnicity be a
disqualification? Of course not.
Integrating more Arabs into the
workforce can bring positive change in Jewish- Arab relations and enhance
Yet given the history of Jewish- Arab relations,
the wider Arab-Israeli conflict, and current tensions within Israel, it will be
an ongoing, uphill challenge to change perceptions.
The campaign is
directed by the Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab, Druze and
Circassian Sectors, an arm of the Prime Minister’s Office. Created in 2007, the
Authority is a permanent body, and thus not dependent on this particular
Its mission marks a commitment from the highest levels of
government to develop programs to improve the lot of Israel’s minorities. So
far, the Authority has initiated transportation, housing and public safety
projects in 13 Arab communities.
The initial response from employers and
prospective employees to the campaign “was very positive,” said Hagit Cohen of
the Authority. The government offers financial incentives, such as paying part
of the salaries, to encourage Jewish employers to hire qualified Arab university
graduates. Job training programs for certain positions in industry are also
available. How many apply and are hired in the coming months will largely
determine the success of this groundbreaking program.
The Authority will
launch a separate campaign to encourage Israeli Arabs to apply for 350 positions
in government ministries in September. The initiative is a response to
longstanding complaints that Arabs are underrepresented in government
“The government is sending a message that it is serious about
helping Arab citizens,” says Ron Gerlitz, co-director of Sikkuy, a leading
Jewish-Arab advocacy organization that has long promoted government action to
advance civic equality. The PMO program to hire Arabs was one of the major
recommendations in Sikkuy’s annual equality index report three years
For Gerlitz, however, current efforts fall short. “If the government
is serious about hiring Arabs in the private sector, it has an easy tool,”
Gerlitz told me. “Companies with government contracts should be required to hire
Arabs. This is a cheap, practical, very effective step.” Gerlitz suggests
setting an initial goal of five percent of contractor hires.
All of this
makes eminent sense. Increasing the percentages of Arab employees in a variety
of sectors would be good for their self-esteem, for the country’s productivity
and, importantly, for advancing positive Jewish-Arab relations. In the private
sector, where the current campaign is focused, Jews and Arabs working together
can help alter preconceived stereotypes.
Coincidentally, when the hiring
campaign began in mid-June, the national service issue came to a head with the
Plesner Committee report. Unfortunately, the heated rhetoric between Jewish and
Arab political leaders over Arab national service has distracted the
conversation away from practical solutions to a dilemma that has existed since
the founding of the state. The government's non-discriminatory campaign deserves
wide support across the political spectrum, and in both the Arab and Jewish
The government’s anti-discrimination campaign, however, is a
more tangible, and immediate, partial solution to boosting Arab employment. It
deserves wide support across the political spectrum, and in both the Arab and
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s
director of media relations.