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SOME OF THE experts attending the first Diversity and Equal Opportunity Index at the President’s Residence yesterday included (from left) host Linoy Bar Geffen, Prof. Momi Dahan, professor of economics at the Hebrew University’s School for Public Policy, Dr. Nasrin Haj Yihye, head of the employment .(Photo by: MARK NEYMAN / GPO)
Rivlin urges economic leaders to open the gates to minority groups
“We do not always understand that Israeli democracy is not just for Jews but for everyone.”
President Reuven Rivlin has urged the leaders of Israel’s economy to open the gates to Arabs, haredim and Ethiopian Israelis, telling them they hold the key to unlock the potential for these communities to contribute to the national economy and society.

Rivlin was speaking at his official residence on Sunday following the presentation of the first Diversity and Equal Opportunity Index, which showed that despite enormous efforts to promote equality, those sectors as well as women in all segments of society continue to suffer wage discrimination, and are often denied employment on the basis of racial, religious and gender bias.

“In order to create hope” said Rivlin, “we have to acknowledge reality.” He said the statistics presented in the index illustrate how the Israeli labor market is like a closed club that admits members only if they come from the right background.

Israel is a multi-cultural society with different approaches including toward the State of Israel, he said, but this does not mean that such differences should count against them.

“We do not always understand that Israeli democracy is not just for Jews but for everyone,” he said.

Yafit Alfandari of the Central Bureau of Statistics said the most reliable source in formulating the index was the Income Tax Department. The information gleaned from there showed that in general there is still a 30% income gap between men and women who are doing a similar job, and that women, Arabs and Ethiopian Israelis earn far less than other Israelis.

There is a strong narrowing of the gap in the under-29 age group, because younger people tend to be better educated and can therefore obtain better jobs.

Equal Opportunities Commissioner Mariam Kabaha observed that despite the disappointing figures, there was a positive sign that there are more employment opportunities in general, and that the market has opened up to all.

Dr. Nasrin Haj Yihye, who heads the employment division in the Economy Ministry, said that education is the key to everything. Many Arab women are undereducated and therefore get low-paying jobs and suffer discrimination both as Arabs and as women. Arab men usually obtain blue-collar jobs mainly as construction workers or as gardeners, she said, and because of the physical strain of such work, often have to retire in their 40s and cannot find other forms of employment because they are not educationally qualified. If they were well educated, she suggested, they might be able to find their way into the hi-tech industry.

Labor and Welfare Minister Haim Katz, referencing a recent report on poverty, said that there are more than 274,000 people in Israel who are working but who live below the poverty line. “If more people join the labor force, we will all gain from it,” he said, insisting that if everyone would receive a fair salary and decent working conditions not related to race, gender, religion or age but only to ability, everyone could contribute to the economy and to society.

Prof. Momi Dahan, a professor of economics at the Hebrew University’s School for Public Policy, said: “Before I’m an economist, I’m a human being, and as such I don’t believe in discrimination in any shape or form. It makes me angry that there is discrimination in Israel.

The index shows the lack of moral integrity on the part of the general public. As a people who suffered so much, we should be the first to show empathy for others.”

Dahan commended Rivlin for the stand he has taken regarding equal opportunities and equal rights for Israel’s Arab population, and said that he would be much happier if more people had Rivlin’s attitude.

Moti Feldstein, CEO of the Kemach Foundation who represented the haredi community, said that he looked forward to the day when it would be normal for all haredim to work instead of relying on unemployment grants. They couldn’t all be lawyers, he said, but they could certainly work in greater numbers in hi-tech.
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