I sat in a powerful meeting the other day about the work we do in Israel and around the world. Chaired by the amazing Paula Saginaw and Bob Kuchner, our Chairs of Israel & Overseas, we learned about the work of Federation and our partners in dozens of areas and themes.
We have a committee on Israeli Arabs, chaired by Phyllis Bernstein, Jim Paul, and Carol Simon, which works with our Israel Center. Their role is first and foremost to teach us about Arab Israeli issues. We’ve had several initiatives looking at Arab Israelis: a social venture fund, an educational forum, a women’s program in Hurfeish, funding for programs and partnerships.
Why should we care about this?
We’ve been trying to learn about this issue. You can see some of the discussion here and here. In a nutshell: we should care because there’s too much violence and not enough understanding between Jews and Arabs in Israel. Also, because caring about a more equal, tolerant, and shared Israel means caring for all its citizens. You don’t get to claim you’re inclusive if you ignore 20% of the adult population.
All fine and good. But I want to offer another suggestion.
I had a meeting once in Israel with Roi Assaf, Head of the Social Department in The Authority for Economic Development of the Minorities Sector, which sits in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Office. He gave a fascinating presentation on “Governmental Policy towards Economic Development of the Arab Sector.”
One quote, in particular, really struck me…because, in addition to low standards of living, high rates of poverty mean high costs to Israel in welfare services, lost productivity, lost tax revenue, and low consumer activity. So low employment and high poverty have a macro-level impact, not just on the individuals concerned but on the strength and economic vitality of Israel as a whole.
So Roi said: "Arab citizens, despite constituting more than 20% of the population, contribute only 8% to Israel's GDP, at an estimated loss of over NIS 30 billion each year. This isn’t an Arab problem…it’s a national problem.”
The Prime Minister’s Office has some really striking statistics: 78% of Jewish men and 76% of Jewish women (ages 18-66) are employed…but only 69% of Arab men and 27% of Arab women are! Just think about the difference between over three-quarters and one-quarter of the adult population. That’s a massive statement about the challenges we’re facing.
We have a first-world country with some third-world labor patterns. And it’s not sustainable.
Imagine what we could achieve in Israel if they had the capacity and ability to do more. That’s why we should care, too.
P.S. We’re going to have a special pre-ICE ( Israel experience Center Mission) track to explore the issue of Israeli Arabs, March 15-17. We still have a few available slots. Email my colleague Randi Brokman if you are interested.
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