'Arab, Haredi integration will boost per capita GDP'

Prime minister tells economic forum for nations' minorities greater integration could lead to GDP of $40,000 per person.

By NADAV SHEMER
March 20, 2012 18:34
2 minute read.
Druse worker inspects apples in Buq'ata

Druse worker inspects apples in Buq'ata_370. (photo credit: Gil Cohen Magen/Reuters)

 
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The quickest path to achieving GDP of $40,000 per person is to fully integrate the Arab and haredi sectors into the economy, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday.

Speaking at the second annual conference of his office’s Authority for Economic Development of the Arab, Druse and Circassian sectors in Haifa, Netanyahu said the average income of Israelis has already reached that of many medium-economic powers, and is “on the way to catching up with the UK, Germany and France.”

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The prime minister said his government has allocated NIS 5 billion in specific projects for non-Jewish communities during its tenure, not just out of economic interest but also in order to send a message that every child in Israel is entitled to an equal opportunity – regardless of where they are from.

Netanyahu said the government would continue investing in the Arab sector and would attempt to remove bureaucratic barriers standing in the way of the sector’s economic integration. But he said that this alone would not suffice, explaining that Arab leaders need to cooperate if there is to be an improvement in their community’s economic standing.

He expressed concern about the growing crime rate in Arab cities, and said he instructed Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch to formulate a new law-enforcement program following requests for government assistance from Arab municipality chiefs. He said the “turning point” came during a recent Knesset discussion, when he heard testimony from Arab victims of intracity crime – including a mother whose husband was murdered by local criminals.

“All successful states have three characteristics in common: economic freedom and entrepreneurship, education, and law and order,” Netanyahu said. “It is a winning combination.”

Earlier, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said that income inequality between Arabs and Jews would be bridged not just by increasing investment, but also by acting with common sense and sensitivity.

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Recalling his participation last week in the dedication of state-funded digital technology schools in Tayibe and Baka al-Gharbiyah, Steinitz said he was moved to see children aged four to five familiarizing themselves with computer software, even before learning to read and write.

“I said to myself that this is how we build the future of the Arab sector and its integration into the Israeli economy,” Steinitz said, adding that these same children will become part of the hi-tech industry in the future, causing a subsequent increase in Arab income levels and in their involvement in the wider economy.

The heads of various Arab and Druse municipalities – including Sakhnin, Kfar Qassem, Usfiya and Bir al- Maksur – warned during a panel discussion that the government must devote even more funds to the Arab sector if its economic situation is to improve. They told the prime minister about the problems faced by their communities during a face-to-face meeting the same day.

Sakhnin Mayor Mazen Ghnaim slammed government plans to establish new Arab cities, saying that it would be preferable to strengthen existing cities such as his own. He warned that failure to strengthen Sakhnin’s industrial zone and to attract investment to the city could lead to an increase in instances of violence.

Other participants in the day-long conference included: Ricardo Hausmann, director of the Center for International Development at Harvard University; Hossam Haick of the Technion’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Nanotechnology; and Dan Schechtman, winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

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