Mixing metals and men

Israel must treat its diverse population like a tough metal: mix it with other metals and it will only become stronger. Promoting a unified society can be achieved through establishing export industries on the simple formula that putting people to work can make them forget their differences.

Stef Wertheimer Warren Buffet (do not publish again) (photo credit: Flash 90)
Stef Wertheimer Warren Buffet (do not publish again)
(photo credit: Flash 90)
Early in my career in metalworking, I learned that most metals become stronger when they are mixed with other elements. Tungsten, for instance, is one of the toughest metals. But a tool made entirely of tungsten will be too brittle and will break when used. When it is combined with another material, such as cobalt, it becomes more pliable. Oddly enough, this only makes it more durable.
In this sense, a country is like metal: it is strengthened when it mixes the various components of society together.  One of my ongoing concerns is how we here in Israel can meld our many sectors into a cohesive nation. How do we create a shared vision for new immigrants as well as the Jews, Arabs, Bedouins, and Druze who have lived here for generations? How do we promote tolerance among our various religious and ethnic groups? How do we create opportunities so that everyone can have a vested interest in contributing to the country’s future? How can we give a second chance to at-risk teenagers who feel left behind by their schools and society? And – my chief concern – how do we stem the tide of emigration so that younger generations will remain here, investing their energies and talents in the future of Israel?
Other nations have dealt with these same issues. The United States serves as the classic example of a refugee nation. The famous lines etched into the Statue of Liberty are as apt for Israel as they are for the US: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore…” POEM For more than 200 years, America has been striving to achieve the Latin phrase that appears on most American coins, e pluribus unum (out of many, one). But the task is far from finished.
IN Israel however, we do not have 200 years to spend on this project. The creation of the state in 1948 was one of the truly miraculous moments in Jewish history. For the first time in 2000 years, Jews have a homeland, a safe haven from persecution, a place where they require no visas for entry. We will have only one chance to build this country, and we must do it right.
Our task is to create a common denominator, a collective vision to unite our people and promote a stable society. Sadly, for the first few decades since the country’s genesis, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the chief unifying factor for Israel’s Jewish population. We now need a new goal, one is that is positive, uplifting, and meaningful to all the sectors of Israeli society. My suggestion for a new vision is one that focuses on establishing creative export industries.
To secure Israel’s social and economic future, we must provide opportunities for those who are currently underrepresented in the workforce. Last month at the Prime Minister’s Conference, Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer announced that the poverty level of two sectors in Israel, haredim and Arabs, had increased by more than 50 percent over the past 10 years. Haredim comprise 10 percent of the population, yet 65% of the men are unemployed (an enormous decline from 1979, when that figure was only 20.9%).
To provide additional opportunities for Arabs in the fields of technology, President Shimon Peres has recently formed a coalition of CEO’s of some of Israel’s top technology firms. I hope that this group and other industries will initiate efforts to train and employ capable individuals from this sector.
In recent years I too have tried to come up with some solutions. In Zur Lavon, one of my industrial parks in the Galilee, I started a high school program for at-risk teenagers, where we teach adult Druze, Arabs and Jews in advanced metalworking programs. At several other locations, we have developed programs for pre-army students, as well as for those currently enlisted. And one of our newest initiatives is a training program in metalworking for Haredim.
I believe skilled work can be the source of human dignity. Pride is the natural result of a job well done. Work of course, also serves the nation. Industry is the most important way to build the economic strength of a country. Involving all segments of our society in creating modern export industries will mean less involvement in our differences; ultimately, this will lead to a brighter future for everyone.
The writer is the founder and honorary chairman of ISCAR, Ltd. For the past 50 years he has been involved in establishing technical education programs and is chairman of the Zur Lavon organization for technical education. Lynn Holstein contributed to this article.