A government initiative that will be launched soon aims to encourage employers to hire Arab-Israeli academics by offering a NIS 9,000 voucher for every one they hire.The initiative, a joint project of the Authority for Economic Development of Minorities, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry and the Employment Service, offers the voucher as an incentive to companies that hire graduates in accountancy, economics, law, business management, engineering and pharmaceutical studies.According to Aiman Saif, director- general of the Authority for Economic Development of Minorities in the Prime Minister’s Office, the initiative attempts to remedy the situation whereby Arab graduates are left out of the job market when it comes to highpaying and high-education threshold positions in the private sector.“We want to show the employers that there is a large, untapped labor force, made up of skilled, intelligent and well educated Arab Israelis and give them a chance to absorb them into their companies.The vouchers are a symbolic way in which the government expresses its support,” Saif said on Tuesday.The NIS 9,000 will be handed out in three payments, he said.“All we want is for them to get through the door. We assume that once they’re in, they will be able to prove their value and their employers will want to keep them on long term,” Saif said. “We also hope that with time, employers will see the value of employing a diverse and multicultural workforce, which can positively effect their bottom line.”According to statistics from the National Union of Israeli Students, there are roughly 80,000 Arab-Israeli university graduates, who make up 9 percent of the adult Arab population in Israel. Of them, 20,000 are employed in jobs for which they are overqualified.“What happens is that Arabs graduate from university, but because they can’t find jobs in their field, they are forced to either take on jobs that they are overqualified for, like teaching or manual labor, or else leave the country to look for better prospects abroad,” said Hassan Towafri, head of the the students union’s minority advancement division.According to Towafri, the chances of an Arab Israeli to find a job in his or her field of education is a fifth of that of a Jew.Those who do find appropriate jobs are overwhelmingly (70%) employed in the public service and the average wages of an Arab graduate are 30% lower than those of their Jewish counterparts.“The subsidy is a drop in the sea and will not help bring about real change. NIS 9,000 is an insignificant amount for the big companies and won’t get them to change their practices,” Towafri said. “We learn from studies that the reason why managers of private firms choose not to hire minorities is not because they think they are less skilled, or less educated, rather they simply don’t want to leave their comfort zone and hire someone different,” he said.Most Israeli employers report that they are hesitant to hire Arabs and other minorities, even if they meet the academic qualifications for the job, according to a study conducted at Kiryat Ono Academic college in 2009. The researchers surveyed dozens of employers and potential employees in professions like banking, advertising, media, accounting and law.Eighty-three percent of employers prefer not to hire Arabs, 58% say no to haredim and 53% reject Ethiopians, according to the study.“I don’t like to use the word ‘racism’ or ‘discrimination,’” Saif said. “I think that there is a prevalent ignorance regarding the Arab workforce and that people are more comfortable hiring from within their familiar surroundings. This is something that needs to be overcome.“Arab-Israeli young people are in a dismal state. For decades, they have been told that if they focus on education and properly prepare themselves for the job market, they will find jobs and the social gaps will diminish. Now they see that even after they invested in getting degrees, they are left out. For them it’s unbelievably frustrating,” he said.Irit Tamir, director-general of Kav Mashve (The Equator), a nongovernmental organization dedicated to promoting equal employment opportunities for Arab university graduates, said she strongly supported government subsidies encouraging minority employment.“This type of action has proved itself in the past in other populations.It was what enabled the mass integration of immigrants from the former Soviet Union into the hi-tech sector in the 1990s. The amount is merely a symbol of the government’s commitment and it says something about its willingness to take on the challenge,” Tamir said.“What’s important is that the money be distributed wisely. I am greatly in favor of providing assistance for the engineering and finance sector, but in the pharmaceutical and legal sectors it doesn’t really make much sense. Arab Israelis already make up a large proportion of pharmacists, at least equal to their size in the population, so further incentives are not really needed. When it comes to the legal professions, the obstacles there are entirely different. The sector is already saturated and has trouble providing jobs even for all the Jews who graduate,” she said.Tamir said that in the three years Kav Mashve has been operating, it has noticed a positive trend in employment of Arab Israelis, especially in the hi-tech sector, where language and proximity are not major considerations, but that there is a long way to go before full equality is reached.“The most significant move the government could take would be to set an example and hire more Arab academics in the public service.Since they don’t even meet their own quotas for hiring minorities, this move is little more than a ‘fig leaf.’ The tipping point is still ahead of us and I believe that in three more years we will see a real change, primarily because there won’t be a choice. Israeli companies need their skills,” Tamir said.