And it also could help curtail violence and support peace in the country.
Saif explained that there are two core Israeli-Arab sectors on which these programs can have the most impact. The first is Arab women. He explained that when Arab women earn academic degrees, they work. Some 77 percent of Arab women with degrees are a part of the labor market compared with 27 percent in general.
“This is not a cultural issue. Most of the Arab women, they want to be a part of the labor market. You don’t have to convince them or their husbands to be a part of the labor market,” said Saif. “What is the major barrier? They don’t have jobs, and they don’t have the education.”
The other sector is young Arab men between the ages of 18 and 22. Saif said 38.7 percent of Arabs in these ages don’t learn or work — “They do nothing. … This is a major reason for growing violence in the Arab communities.”
Up until now, there were few buses running to and from Arab villages, making access to city jobs nearly impossible. Also, the private Israeli sectors, industries such as high-tech or engineering, have historically been closed off to the Israeli-Arab population. But what the government is seeing is a “if we build it, they will come” phenomenon. By increasing bus routes, for example, in three years, there was a 580 percent increase in daily passengers (from 33,000 in 2010 to about 200,000 in 2013). A public relations campaign targeting Jewish businesses with incentives for hiring Arab workers led to nearly 500 new placements in one year.
Now, Saif said the government is looking to private charitable foundations to help, too.
Rone, whose fund has taken an active look at the need for investment in the Israeli-Arab sector, said it is no longer enough for those on the right to say that Israel treats its minorities better than surrounding countries. He said those on the left can’t just say, “I went to J Street.”
“We need to have facts on the ground,” said Rone. “We need to create traction on the ground.”
In Israel, the GDP is 30,000 per capita compared with 4,000 or 5,000 in Egypt and Jordan.
“I want to be a part of a modern country — of my country,” said Saif, noting that while he hopes building an equal Israel could influence surrounding countries, he is focused on the Jewish state. “I want to live here, be integrated. That is what we are trying to do. … I want everyone to be happy, but my mission is to build one economy in Israel.”
FACTS & FIGURES
• Israel’s Arab population comprises 20.6 percent of the total population (projected to be 23 percent by 2050) or around 1,600,000 citizens.
• Almost 50 percent of Israel’s Arab population is under the age of 19.
• 51.4 percent of Arab families live below the poverty line.
• 62.5 percent of Arab children live below the poverty line.
• Only 63 percent of Arab children reach 12th grade (compared with 93 percent of their Jewish peers).
• Arab citizens contribute only 8 percent of national GDP.
• The Israeli government estimates the country loses more than 30 billion NIS every year as a result of not realizing the full workforce potential of Arab women and men.
• In 2007, the government established a special Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab, Druze and Circassian Sectors in the prime minister’s office.
Source: Interagency Task Force on Israeli-Arab Issues; all figures relate to Arab citizens of Israel and are based on the most recent government of Israel statistics.
Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief — firstname.lastname@example.org