Peres, hi-tech leaders work to integrate Arabs in workforce

Peres is attempting to do away with stigmas surrounding Arabs in the work environment, giving opportunistic in all sectors.

By
February 9, 2011 22:43
hi tech arab gathering, peres

hi tech arab. (photo credit: Israel Hadari)

Ever since taking office three-anda- half years ago, President Shimon Peres has consistently advocated integrating haredim and Arabs into the Israeli workforce, especially hitech industries.

He has discovered that many haredim, both men and women, have a natural aptitude for hi-tech, meaning they can better support their families and make a significant contribution to the economy.

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The same goes for Arabs. There are many academically qualified members of the Arab community who would prove to be a real boon to Israel’s hi-tech industries, Peres has said, but there has been a general reluctance to employ them.

Unless they find employment in Arab hi-tech companies or in companies abroad, they gravitate between frustration and despondency.

Just over a year ago, Peres went from talking about the subject to acting on it, when he took a busload of prominent Israeli industrialists and investors to Nazareth, with the aim of promoting joint ventures with Arab-owned companies and investments in start-ups in the Arab sector.

Some of the company executives who were on that bus ride took the challenge even further and looked for ways and means to employ Arabs in their companies.

On Tuesday, Peres, accompanied by about a dozen company executives who have become part of his business coalition, visited the predominantly haredi city of Elad, to look at existing places of employment and discuss creating new job opportunities for haredim.

Some of the company executives who already employ haredim spoke glowingly of their highly developed sense of work ethics, their punctuality and their ability to produce and deliver on time.

On Wednesday at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv, in the presence of top-ranking executives representing about 20 companies, Peres launched a new initiative that will enable more Arabs to find jobs in Jewish-owned hi-tech companies. There is now a trilingual portal (www.maantech.org.il) that offers fresh hope to qualified Arab university graduates looking for work in hi-tech industries.

The portal is operated by Manpower, whose representative, Orna Segal, pledged that contrary to general practice in Israel, each and every application will receive a response, and where applicants need help in putting together their resumes, Manpower will guide them. Manpower will maintain contact with all the companies that are part of the business coalition and will refer suitable candidates to them, she said.

Zika Abzuk, business development manager for Cisco, who has been the key coordinator of the project – or as one of the other participants described her, “the beacon” – explained that in Arabic, maan means to sit together, and in Hebrew it is an address.

“Now, every Arab student has an address,” she said, noting that each year hundreds of Arabs graduate from university but can’t find work.

Arabs compromise 20 percent of the population but only 0.5% of employees in hi-tech industries, she said, adding, “We want their ratio in hitech to equal that of their demographic ratio.”

The portal is a central address for every Arab who is looking for work in hi-tech, Segal said. Applications with resumes can be made in Arabic, Hebrew or English. Arabs will be treated like any other job applicants, she said.

Said Bahari, 23, an Arab student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, welcomed the initiative, saying one of the most difficult problems for Arab students is language.

“They can’t always express themselves,” Bahari said, “even though there are many qualified Arabs who could integrate well into hi-tech.”

Many Arabs don’t really make an effort because they expect to be rejected, he said.

Intel Israel general manager Maxine Fassberg said she had recently interviewed an Arab applicant who told her he had sent his resume to numerous companies, and not one of them had replied. She gave him a job at Intel that begins this week, she said.

Moshe Lichtman, head of Israel R&D for Microsoft, said the underlying message to Arab students is: “We are interested in you, and we want to give you work.”

Dov Lautman, cofounder and chairman of Kav Mashve (the equalizer), a business coalition of employers to promote equal employment opportunities for Arab academics, said he had a lot of experience working with Arabs, and they worked just as well as anyone else. Unfortunately, there is a lot of prejudice against them, he said, because too many people think they are not up to standard, or that they will pose problems for Jewish clients.

“There is no doubt that integration of the Arab sector will contribute, not only to the economy but to coexistence,” said Yehoshua Bakula, of Hewlett-Packard.

Tower Jazz CEO Russell Ellwanger said, “Every young person, Arab or not, needs to feel that they’re cared for.”

For the past three years, Tower Jazz has gone to the best Arab high schools in Nazareth, identified the best students and has given them four-year internships and scholarships to the Technion, as well as oneon- one mentoring, he said.

“The student learns to love the mentor, and the mentor learns to love the student,” Ellwanger said, implying that this was the best way to overcome prejudice and discrimination.

SAP managing director Mickey Steiner said his company’s slogan worldwide was “Stop, Listen, Understand.”

Some of the cultural misunderstandings between Arabs and other Israelis could be ironed out if more human-resource managers stopped to listen and tried to understand, he said.

IBM CEO Meir Nissenson said providing jobs for Arabs was not a charitable exercise. “I don’t see our presence here as giving something, but as something in our own interests,” he said. “There is always a need for high-caliber human resources, and we should take advantage of their availability.”


“Every one of us, at some stage in our lives, was a minority, and we have to remember this,” Nissenson said. “I remember how I felt as a young immigrant without the ability of language.”

Shai Onn, country manager for CA Technologies, said, “We’re not doing this just because we want to help the Arabs, but because we want to help ourselves.”

Eiman Seif, who is one of many Arabs who works at Beit Hanassi, said, “The Arab population can contribute a lot to the Israeli economy. All they need is a chance.”

Nice Systems CEO Ze’evi Bergman said the potential of Arabs has been recognized, but it’s not good enough to employ only Arab program engineers; more Arabs need to be in managerial positions.

Peres said the new initiative was a means of rectifying a mistake.

Last year’s bus ride to Nazareth was not a public-relations gimmick to get media coverage, he said. Since then, he said, a special $50 million fund was established to encourage hi-tech students from the Arab sector, and the government has contributed $20m. to the fund, with the rest from the private sector.

In his visits to Israeli Arab communities, Peres said, he had become aware that there is an extraordinary high ratio of academics and an even higher unemployment rate, and this problem had to be addressed. “They live among us, and we must give them work,” he said.

Noting that there are Arab doctors in every Israeli hospital, Peres urged that there be Arab programmers, engineers, etc. in every Israeli hi-tech company.

“If we can accept them when we are sick, we ought to be able to accept them when we are well,” he said. “We will all benefit from a more positive approach toward our Arab citizens.”

At Elad on Tuesday, Peres was equally keen to do away with stigmas relating to haredim, especially the misconception that they don’t want to work.

“We must dispel this negative image,” he said.


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