At an Inter Agency Task Force on Israeli-Arab Issues event on Monday June 18th, Ifat Baron, social change activist, introduced her presentation on Information Technology in Israel by noting that Israel loses up to 8.9 billion US dollars annually due to low economic participation of its minority citizens. In the room filled with businessmen and women, brought together by a shared connection to Israel, such a statistic silenced the crowd. Baron continued to explain the lack of Arab and orthodox integration into the national economy: “right now,” she said, “Israel has two economies,” the thriving Israeli market, and its sinking Arab counterpart” as well as multiple cultural groups. Baron asserted that this disconnect will cause economic and social problems in Israel’s future if the government does not address the issue. Economically, Israel will not continue to prosper with the Arab sector lagging behind. Additionally, Israel’s domestic security relies on an integrated society.
Integrating Arabs into Israeli Society
As a result, Ifat Baron has taken matters into her own hands, through a company called IT Works. IT Works is “an independent charity providing technological and vocational training and job placement programs for disadvantaged populations throughout Israel.” According to Baron, only 200 out of 3,000 Arabs that graduate college find job placements despite the fact that there are 8,000 to 10,000 positions available yearly. Less than 1% of those working in the IT sector are Arab. Ifat addresses the structural issues inhibiting Arab economic integration by spearheading job placement programs that train minority groups in Israel. These programs incorporate vocation education courses, resume, cover letter and interview workshops, and coaching designed to build confidence in the participants. The programs address the Arab minority, but has also expanded to include women, disabled and other ethnic minorities. All of programs have been extremely successful; they have certified of employees for work and very high employment rate upon program completion.
Rather than addressing structural issues that inhibit minority integration in Israel, Anat Saragusti and Boar Tamir, the other two panelists, approach minority relations differently from Baron – using media as a tool to change the perception of minority groups. Their organization, Agenda, uses social media and television to reinvent perceptions of Arabs in Israeli society. For example, at one point during the presentation, Saragusti showed a video clip from the popular TV show “Arab Labor.” The show, which is one of the only Israeli prime-time television series filmed in Arabic, exaggerates stereotypes of Arab-Jewish relations, creating a comedic show that strongly promotes dialogue and raises awareness about minority issues.
At the end of the presentations, during the “Q and A” section, an audience member asked, “how is the perception of an ‘Arab Israeli’ changing? And how can we quantifiably measure such change?” Not one panelist gave a concrete answer, and each had his or her own take on the meaning of being ‘Arab Israeli.’ However, all three panelists agreed that crafting an inclusive Israeli identity is a major challenge confronting Israel – a challenge that must be tackled and one that can be achieved.
Tamir highlighted the main difficulty of this task. Israel will be forced to synthesize two conflicting goals: 1. Promoting a shared Arab-Jewish society and 2. Preserving individual cultural identities. Leaders such as Baron, Saragusti and Tamir, are currently working to do just that. The panel left the audience asking one final question, “As the perceptions of Arab-Israelis change, how, then, does the perception of Israel as a nation change?”
Prepared by Rebecca Jacobson, Summer Intern
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