President Reuven Rivlin criticized Israeli Jewish ignorance of Arab society at a conference hosted at his residence Sunday, warning that both groups are “blind to each other.”
“How many of us Jews know colleagues at work who are Arab? How many of us have true friends who are Arab? How many of us know the agenda of the Arab public, or the differences dividing their society?” Rivlin wondered at an event dedicated to the integration of Arab citizens in the private sector, addressing a crowd of business leaders and civil society representatives.
“A huge gap has grown over the years between two societies that live next to each other and with each other, and yet are blind to each other… We must admit the painful truth: namely, that for the majority of Jewish-Israeli society the Arab public occupies a blind spot.”
Since taking office in July 2014, Rivlin has dedicated much of his time to bridging the gaps between Jews and Arabs in Israel. Last October, he became the first Israeli leader to acknowledge the “terrible crime” of the Kfar Kassem massacre in 1956, and at a meeting with Arab municipal leaders this week endorsed the construction of a new Arab city.
“The Arab public in Israel long ago stopped being a minority,” he told the gathering. “The task of building bridges and forging a sense of partnership between Jews and Arabs is for me a human, Jewish and Zionist task of the first order.”
Shaldor, an Israeli strategic consulting firm hired by a group of young Arab entrepreneurs knows as Collective Impact, presented to the conference research it conducted among Israel’s top 47 companies that showed low levels of Arab integration.
According to Shaldor’s data, presented by company vice president Yakir Lazarov, while Arabs comprise 20% of Israeli society, they make up just 5% of the employees in Israel’s business sector. Some 70,000 Arabs were identified as either over-qualified or underemployed (working part-time), a number expected to grow to 126,000 by 2020.
The study found that just 7 of the 47 companies employed Arabs at levels equal to their 20% representation in Israeli society, but none of the companies employed Arabs in mid-level managerial positions or higher.
“The good news is that many of the companies have identified a ‘business case’ in employing more Arabs, especially in the retail sector,” Lazarov said, identifying the main obstacle to Arab integration as the lack of employer access to potential employees.
Ofra Strauss, CEO of Israel’s second-largest food producer, Strauss Group, told the gathering that her company intends to employ more Arab citizens than it currently does.
“The business case for diverse employment is not a matter we can ignore,” Strauss said. “When the business case merges with values and national objectives, this serves as a wake up call for us all. We cannot ignore the opportunity, we cannot ignore the commitment.”