How are Israel’s Arab citizens faring 10 years after the Or Commission report?
That government document called for increasing the number of Arabs in the
workforce as a way to narrow the long-standing socioeconomic gaps between
Israeli Jews and Arabs and integrate more of that minority into Israel’s
A new report on Arab employment in Israel, prepared by
the New York-based Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues (IATF),
presents an encouraging portrait of progress made to date, along with a reality
check regarding the challenges that still lie ahead.
to enhance Arab employment need to address factors that both increase the supply
of Arab workers qualified for Israel’s advanced economy and to make advanced
employment more accessible to Arab citizens,” states the IATF report.
Israeli government has already allocated NIS 4.5 billion for large scale
development and employment initiatives that specifically target Arab society,
and the Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab, Druse and Circassian
Sectors, created within the Prime Minister’s Office in 2007, has been working on
several key issues, including employment, housing and transportation for Arab
That commitment at the highest levels of the Israeli
government, and the energizing creativity of Israeli non-governmental
organizations – some operating in partnership with the Prime Minister’s Office
and other government ministries – have been the principal drivers of
NGOs such as Tsofen, Kav Mashve, Yad Hanadiv and JDC-Tevet have
developed and implemented important initiatives preparing Arabs for 21st-century
And other efforts have been launched to support Arab
For example, a partnership between the Authority for
Economic Development and private-sector investors led to the creation of the Al
Bawader Investment Fund, which has invested in Arab companies dealing with
Internet and software products. And a microfinance fund set up by the Authority
and Koret Israel Foundation is helping the development of small businesses owned
by Arab women.
The late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, in his 1992
inaugural address to the Knesset, said, “it is proper to admit [that] for years
we have erred in our treatment of Israel’s Arab citizens.” Rabin promised that
his government would do everything possible to close the “substantial gaps
between the Jewish and Arab communities in a number of spheres.”
pledge remained unfulfilled, and in October 2000 there was violence and clashes
with the police in which 13 Arab citizens lost their lives. This was a wake-up
call to the Israeli government and for American Jews, who reacted with alarm.
Ongoing education by the IATF through briefing papers, conference calls and
assistance with visits to Israel has helped keep American Jews engaged with the
concerns of the Arab minority, 20 percent of Israel’s population.
IATF’s Arab employment report, (available at www.iataskforce.
org), is a
comprehensive catalog of the efforts by government and civil society
organizations to address the challenges of preparing Arab citizens for jobs and
encouraging employers to hire them.
“Arab citizens are underrepresented
in most advanced industries and professions, in the academia and in the public
sector,” the IATF reports.
It also looks to the future. Meeting the
government’s Arab employment targets for 2020, for example, will require
creating 300,000 more jobs over the next eight years, around 175,000 more than
the Israeli market’s natural growth.
Progress is also hampered by the
time lag between the development of a new program and its
The IATF report notes that it can literally take years
from the day the government resolves to create and fund a new initiative for
Arab employment to allocating the budget and then to actual
A resolution to increase the number of Arab employees in
the public sector, a move long advocated by Sikkuy and other NGOs, was passed in
November 2007, but the budget was only allocated in January 2009. Implementation
is moving slowly and, as with other initiatives, bears close
The challenges of narrowing the gaps are not solely the
responsibility of the government or the Jewish majority. There are also cultural
barriers within Arab society to overcome, particularly in encouraging Arab women
to seek employment outside their villages and towns. As norms evolve in Arab
society, the Israeli government is also investing in child care, as well as
improving transportation in Arab communities, that can help more women take
advantage of employment opportunities.
Recent progress gives hope that
the country is on the right path.
The IATF, meanwhile, is planning events
in New York and across the US in the Fall, as a follow-up to its report to spur
interest in and discussion of the issues surrounding Arab employment in
Israel.The author is the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Director of