Tsofen encourages the establishment and development of hi-tech centers in major Arab cities and communities..
(photo credit: Courtesy)
More than 600,000 Arab citizens live in Israel, approximately 20 percent of the population. However, Arabs are involved in more than a third of the country’s serious crimes, and almost half of murders, arsons and robberies.
Ostensibly, these statistics should have us worrying and pointing fingers at the Arab community for being dangerous and destabilizing our country. Extreme-right political parties use these numbers to advocate for the exclusion of and discrimination against the Arab community. And yet if we analyze this data objectively and courageously, we can learn a lot about Israel’s attitude.
In 2002, after the rioting of the second intifada had begun to calm down, prime minister Ariel Sharon held a meeting in his office during which he asked to hear an assessment of Israeli Arabs and ideas for how to prevent conflicts. Surprisingly, it was the Shin Bet director who suggested that if Israel wanted to improve relations between the Arab and Jewish communities in Israel, the government would need to allocate NIS 5 billion for the betterment of infrastructure, education and healthcare in the Arab sector. Sharon was shocked by this recommendation, but agreed to review the issues more thoroughly. It took a few more years until Israel began budgeting funds for the Arab community, but it is finally happening.
This long-standing neglect has resulted in sewage pouring into the streets of Arab villages and towns.
Crime has skyrocketed and many Arab youth prefer to spend their time at violent demonstrations instead of going to school or working, especially since educational institutions are very under-funded and as a result, few Arabs are qualified to work in fields such as hi-tech.
Realizing that the government was not going to intervene, a number of visionaries in the hi-tech field decided to take this project upon themselves. At the end of 2007, Zeevi Bregman, former CEO of NICE Systems and Comverse, and Jimmy Levy, who had managed a number of hi-tech companies, founded the first hi-tech enterprise in the Arab sector: Galil Software.
Located in Nazareth, Galil Software employs 150 engineers and other hi-tech personnel from within the Arab community. Bregman and Levy believed that if the Arab sector were economically stronger and could build up a business presence – especially in the hi-tech world – this would be to the benefit of everyone living in Israel. Galil Software is a leading developer of applications and quality control software.
Bregman explained to me that his vision was to help Arab Israelis integrate into the Israeli world of business – especially hi-tech. In addition to founding and running Galil Software, Bregman and his colleagues have been active in a number of other social ventures in the Arab sector, such as Babcom Centers, which runs call centers and offers translation and customized software services; Kav Mashve, which helps Arab college graduates to find employment in companies that are commensurate with their skills and education and encourages Arab high school students to study engineering; Tsofen, an Arab-Jewish organization promoting the integration of Arab citizens into the hi-tech industry.
“Instead of bring Arab engineers to the hi-tech industry we wanted to bring hi-tech into Arab communities,” says one of Tsofen’s co-founders. This has been especially helpful for Arab women, who now make up 30% of the hi-tech force in Nazareth.
These initiatives have changed the face of Arab society in Israel in a number of ways:
• Many more college students are studying engineering.
• Arab graduates are finally finding employment in software programming and engineering, even at international giants such as Google and Microsoft.
• Salaries have risen significantly, as has employees’ potential for advancement. Many employees who started out in these new hi-tech centers move on to successful careers at other Israeli hi-tech firms or even positions overseas.
• Many Arab women have benefited from hi-tech centers that are close to home, which makes it easier for them to balance family and work.
• Interaction between Arab and Jewish employees and managers has led to increased dialogue and understanding also on non-work-related issues.
• More high-schools in Arab communities are offering engineering courses and helping students get accepted to college.
Bregman says the hi-tech centers in Arab towns are a much better value for customers than outsourcing to India, for example, since they are more professional, have higher availability and quicker response and offer extremely reasonable rates. And of course, Israel as a country benefits tremendously from the integration of Arabs into the business world.
Although I would not describe these events as revolutionary, this certainly is a start. Government policy still has a long way to go in offering financial and tax benefits to technology companies in the Arab sector, and there is still a huge gap between the level of education offered in Jewish areas compared with that in Arab areas, but there is finally room for optimism. A few Jewish visionaries have taken their dreams – and money – and set out to fulfill their goal of integrating Arabs into the hi-tech field. In their mind, this was the best way to prevent the next intifada.The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.