islamic extremist 88.
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In the ongoing battle to foster good relations with the Israeli Arab community, political and business leaders this week stressed economic progress and development within Israeli Arab society as the best way to prevent the growth of extremism.
"We speak as if there is no connection between economy and society, but there isâ€¦ Arab businessmen have to be models for their communities," said Likud Party Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu at the Jewish-Arab Business Conference in Herzliya on Tuesday, organized by the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development.
Jewish and Arab businessmen at the gathering focused on the challenges of integrating the Israeli Arab community into the Israeli economy, while Defense Minister and Labor Party leader Amir Peretz emphasized that Israel was a democratic country as well as a Jewish country.
"The Arab community is not only a part of the country but an important component in society," he said, identifying three factors that need to be addressed to improve the living standards of Israeli Arabs: education, infrastructure and business.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu presented a three-point plan to grow the economy and incorporate the Arab community. The plan focuses on the reduction of government spending, reduction of taxes and reform of the system to make business easier and more efficient.
Netanyahu emphasized that handouts and free grants are not the way to improve economic conditions, rather "they have to start working."
However, speaking to the crowd of nearly 250, Michael Federman, chairman of Elbit Systems and Dan Hotels said, "The best way to fight extremism is the through true partnership and not through government channels. The problem is that only voices of extremism are heard, which prevents coexistence."
Arab businesses, according to Dr. Aziz Haider, a sociologist at the Truman Institute of the Hebrew University and the Van Leer Institute were not reaching their full potential, and he identified difficulties in obtaining credit and the limited amount of grants and investments that Israel makes in the Arab community as two major factors contributing to the situation.
Disputing Haider's perception that it is more difficult for Arab businesses to obtain credit from Israeli banks, however, Yaakov Tannenbaum, the CEO of Mercantile Discount Bank, said, "The only thing we look at when analyzing a loan request is the business plan, is this a good business or not."
Also limiting the growth of Arab businesses, Haider said, "the Arab community requires the investment of the government in infrastructure in order to grow and flourish."
Reuven Schiff, president of the Chamber of Accountants, suggested that one of the reasons for the lack of basic infrastructure is the weakness of the Arab municipal leadership regarding the collection of property taxes.
Schiff also commented that the bureaucracy of the Israeli system was stifling to all business, both Jewish and Arab. He pointed out that in Israel it takes 34 days to obtain the appropriate licenses and permits to open a business, compared to two days in Australia or five days in the US.
Another recurring message at the conference was the absence of Arab participation in the Israeli hi-tech industry. Amin Samara, owner and CEO of Samara Communications, identified the lack of educational opportunities as the main reason for this.
"The government complains that they don't have Arabs in professional schools but Arab students don't have the choice to go to professional schools because the quality of the academies is not good enough," he said.
Another factor contributing to the lack of Arab integration into the Israeli economy was poor language skills, with many speakers noting that Hebrew and English language skills in the Arab community were not developed enough.
"Not capitalizing on the economic potential in the Arab community is a great loss for Israel," said Haider.
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