Here's a challenge to Israeli CEOs

Employ Arab university graduates, especially in high-tech and engineering

September 23, 2007 01:06
3 minute read.
Here's a challenge to Israeli CEOs

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The latest statistics point to growing poverty among Israeli Arabs. Poverty is always bad. Poverty combined with national conflict is a recipe for disaster. But poverty compounded by increasing security tensions is a volatile mixture that exacerbates the threats posed to our state from near and far. The vast majority of Israel's Arabs do not pose a clear and present danger - or any security danger at all - and it is truly a marvel that we have managed to maintain relative quiet even in these turbulent times. The danger that we face is that this relative peace and quiet will not continue forever, and that the incitement fomented by the Arab leadership, together with the continued occupation and tension along our borders, could spark insurrection, violence and terror the like of which we have never seen. So what do we do? Previous attempts to create a common denominator for Jews and Arabs have foundered on the rocks of reality. Whereas among the Jewish population the approach that favors a solution involving partition of the land - two states for two peoples - has triumphed, among the Arab population extremism of the kind that denies the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state has surged. This reality causes many, including those working for genuine coexistence between our two peoples, to despair of ever finding a solution. What we can do is to continue to work in the direction of education. The chapter on Arab education in the Dovrat Report includes detailed recommendations. These have received very short shrift in the Knesset and the Hebrew-language media. Equality in budgetary allocations would not do away with the disparities overnight, but it would ultimately minimize the scope of poverty among the Arab community. PERHAPS THE right way is to abandon the attempt to reach some kind of ideological consensus between Jews and Arabs and go in a socioeconomic direction that skips over the need for basic agreement. Jews and Arabs who work together and jointly benefit from Israel's economic boom can represent an alternative way to guarantee of peace and quiet between the two communities. Arab poverty is the result of a lethal combination: a very high birthrate among families with a single breadwinner and, of course, the ongoing problem of discrimination in the allocation of government resources and representation in governmental bodies. A program to raise the standard of living among the Arab community must address these issues. Efforts in Arab and Muslim countries prove that intensive information campaigns can lower the birthrate; if Israel were to launch such a campaign aimed at both Jews and Arabs, and if the campaign were accompanied by bringing jobs for women to the villages, it would have a fair chance of gradual success. The problem is that even under the best circumstances, reform can take generations to accomplish - and this is an extremely urgent matter. Fortunately, there are chances of more immediate success: 10 percent of engineering and computer university graduates in Israel are Arabs. This is an impressive achievement by Israel's higher education system, one Israel can be proud of. But this achievement becomes an obstacle, because the majority of Arab graduates are unable to get jobs in Jewish companies - and Arab women are nowhere to be found in the job market. NOTHING could be more dangerous than the combination of higher education and expectation with disappointment and frustration. It is a ticking bomb in every sense. And it comes on top of the waste of a major economic resource because the national investment put into the training and education of these graduates is not being exploited. Jewish employers and government agencies need to mobilize to employ Arab graduates in all areas of the economy, especially in the hi-tech and engineering industries. Livelihood and income commensurate with their education may not change the lack of national consensus between the Jewish and Arab communities, but it would go a long way in reducing socioeconomic disparities, calming tensions and enriching Israel, including its Arab citizens. We need a major ideological turnabout - an appeal from the prime minister to the employers' associations, from the employers' associations to their members - as well as the mobilization of the universities themselves, through their alumni associations. We are living at a time when many corporations assume social-welfare responsibilities in order to give back to the societies in which they live. So I pose a new challenge to the CEOs and directors of Israeli firms: Seat Jews and Arabs next to one another in front of computers - not in order to settle differences of opinion between them, but rather to encourage them to talk "computerese" with one another to resolve software problems. The writer, former president of the Interdisciplinary Center-Herzliya, has been minister of education and a member of the Knesset.

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