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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Education is the key to integrating the country's Israeli-Arab population into the labor force, a development that will ensure Israel's long-term economic stability, economic and industry leaders stressed Tuesday.
"If we, as a society, do not take steps to absorb the Arab population into the labor market, larger segments of the population will be caught up in the poverty situation and it should be noted that Israeli society cannot succeed, certainly not in the long run, if it creates large differentials, with a big sector of the population existing at a very low standard of living," Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer said at the Jewish-Arab Economic Development conference in Herzliya, sponsored by the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development (CJAED) in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung organization. "I am referring both to technological and no technological education. In this context I would like to mention that in the last few years technological education has been sorely neglected. I hear this from different sources, both in the education system and industrialists who need workers with technical and technological qualifications."
The CJAED is a non-profit organization dedicated to economic development and cooperation between Jews and Arabs that acts on the premise that Israel's primary resource is its people, and that the country's strength lies in its pluralism, democracy and equality.
"Our main objective is two-fold," Helmi Kittani, director of CJAED, told The Jerusalem Post. "We are looking to create more jobs by promoting joint ventures between Israelis and Arabs and we want to increase the partnership with the Israelis as a way of building healthier communities for Israeli-Arabs."
While only 20 percent of Israel's population are Israeli-Arabs, they significantly bring down the work force participation figures, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Its numbers from 2006 state that the employment rate among Arab women was about 17 percent, compared to 51% among all women, while among men, the work force participation rate is declining; since the beginning of the decade, it has been lower than among Jewish men.
According to Claire Flanagan, the director of external relations and resource development at CJAED, the momentum that is generated by the organization and specifically by the organization's annual conference, not only raises awareness of the Arab population in Israel in terms of business and employment, but on a policy level as well, it is the engine for change.
"Last year Ra'anan Dinur, [director-general of the Prime Minister's Office] announced an investment fund targeting the Arab population's participation in the country's work force," she noted.
The foundation upon which the success of the CJAED rests, however, is education, said Dov Lautman, chairman of the board of Delta Galil Industries.
"The more that I delve into the field of education, the more I am intimidated," he said. "The current situation in Israel is not good and the education system here requires major changes. The salaries of the teachers need to be increased, but this should come with reforms in the system, as well. The only way to close the gaps in society between Arabs and Israelis and between the rich and poor is through education - it leads to increases in wages and the ability to live a better and healthier lifestyle. The country needs to invest in its education system- if it does, we will see a difference." The necessity of providing the country's children with the proper education, however, goes far beyond just integrating minorities into the work force, as leaders say it will bring about a better quality of life for many of the country's citizens.
"Education is the key to improving anyone's chances to integrate into the labor market and to earn a higher wage," Fischer remarked. "It is essential to place education as a high priority, and I mean particularly education and training in professions and skills that will help the integration of the Arab population into the labor market, especially in those industries and occupations requiring relatively high levels of skill, and which command high pay."
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