Thursday, November 14, 2013

A national problem

One of the most fascinating meetings I’ve had in a long time took place yesterday.

I was hosting a leadership mission from the Associated (the Baltimore Jewish federation) here at the Joint’s offices in Jerusalem. 
We had a series of panels on fascinating topics – Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) Israelis and their integration into “mainstream” economic life; European Jewry’s challenges; legal and illegal migration to Israel, and more. But one topic fascinated me because of the array of talent in the panel discussing the issue: economic development in the Israeli-Arab sector.

The panel included four people who, I think, are at the forefront of what we talk about when we talk about change and talent dealing with this subject:

Avivit Hai, the Program Associate in Israel for the Inter Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues and one of the most articulate speakers on Arab-Israeli issues I’ve met;

Roi Assaf, the Head of the Social Development Department, in the Authority for the Economic and social Development of the Arab, Druze and Circassian Sectors, which sits in the Prime Minister's Office;

Dr Sigal Selach, my terrific colleague and Director of the JDC-TEVET Employment Initiative; and

The inspiring and wonderful Safa Garb,  JDC- TEVET Division Director, Arab Society and Infrastructure.

What I found fascinating about the discussion – and there’s more I’ll write about this at some point – was the depth of knowledge and capacity that all four displayed. 
Roi’s words were particularly poignant: “Arab poverty [in Israel] isn’t an Arab problem – it’s a national problem. Twenty per cent of our population contributes only eight per cent of our GDP.” Imagine what we could achieve if they had the capacity and ability to do more.

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. 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.

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