President Reuven Rivlin in the West Bank Peduel settlement.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The realization of the Israeli dream must become accessible to the young man from Rahat and the young woman from Umm el-Fahm, President Reuven Rivlin told activists of the Collective Impact group on Sunday evening.
Chaired by Ofra Strauss, head of the Strauss Group, along with former Bank Hapoalim CEO Zvi Ziv and Dr. Sameer Kassem, head of the department of internal medicine at Carmel Government Hospital, the Israel division of Collective Impact is committed to the integration of more Arabs into the workforce at all levels of employment.
“The Arab community can no longer be regarded as a minority,” Rivlin insisted, citing as an example the high proportion of Arab children in first grade. While some people may not be pleased by the increase in the Arab population, it is something that cannot be ignored, said Rivlin. Nor, he said, could it be ignored “that this country is also their homeland.”
It was unfortunate, he said, that very few Jewish Israelis know anything about Arabs beyond their stereotyped images.
The Arab sector, he noted, is made up of many shades, with a variety of cultural, religious, ethnic and national identities.
“Too many Israeli Jews have a blind spot in their attitudes toward Arabs,” said Rivlin. “How many of us know anything about the Arab colleagues with whom we work? How many of us have true Arab friends? How many of us are familiar with Arab lifestyles? How many of us know anything about the disputes between different sectors of Arab society?” Rivlin stressed the importance of bridging the huge gap between Israeli Arabs and Jews and said it has to go step-by-step and should start with education, so that both sectors will be fluent in the language of the other.
Bridge-building and integration of Arabs into all areas of the workforce, and not just into menial jobs, will also inspire confidence, help to eradicate suspicion and hostility and benefit the economy, Rivlin pointed out.
No one has really taken responsibility for the gap that exists between the Jewish and Arab communities, he said.
“When we talk about change, we the business leaders have to implement it,” said Strauss. “We have to look at what we’re not doing and what we should be doing.”
Strauss, who also heads Jasmine, a group that includes both Jewish and Arab female owners and managers of businesses in Israel, recalled that it had taken 15 years to get to the point where it is accepted as a norm that women are heads and CEOs of commercial enterprises.
Change takes a long time, she reflected, and can seldom be brought about by only one person. It takes a lot of people working together.
She is convinced that if business leaders work together to enable Arab citizens of Israel to reach their potential in whatever profession they choose, Collective Impact will succeed in its mission.