The economic security of Israel is at risk.
It sounds dramatic, but it is a reality on the ground — unless the government’s efforts at creating equality of access to education and jobs for Israeli-Arab citizens are successful.
Some facts: Israeli-Arabs make up 20.6 percent of the Israeli population, but they contribute only 8 percent of the gross domestic product, (GDP). Some 51.4 percent of Arab families live below the poverty line (compared with 15 percent of Jewish families). Each year, only 63 percent of Arab youngsters reach 12th grade, compared with 93 percent of their Jewish peers.
“Everyone needs to have the same fair shot,” said Rafi Rone, director of Jewish and Israel Initiatives for the Joseph & Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds.
And last week, Rone, in conjunction with the Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Foundation, brought to Baltimore Aiman Saif of Israel’s Authority of Economic Development of Minorities Sector (a division of the government) to discuss the challenge.
Saif, who grew up in Israel and ultimately attended a Jewish school, said, “The issues of Arabs and Jews is a non-issue. I think we can live together in Israel and build Israel together.”
The issue, rather, is that Arabs and Jews have little opportunity to interact with one another and that the minorities are suffering from lack of investment by the government … well, until recently.
Saif said new programs focused on upgrading the Arab business sector, empowering municipalities, encouraging employment and human resource development and approachability to higher education can hopefully help Israel buck the trend. He said Israel is investing about 4 billion NIS ($1.1 billion) in these projects, and the country is already seeing improvement.
“These are not slogans,” said Saif. “These are actions.”
What does Israel stand to gain? An estimated 30 billion NIS ($8.4 billion) each year.