President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday called on industry leaders to bring Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews into Israel’s burgeoning high-tech sector, which he said would help realize the vision of late president Shimon Peres for the country.
Rivlin was addressing Israeli and international high-tech leaders on “Leadership and Innovation” at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Jaffa at one of several events being held to mark a year since the passing of Peres.
Rivlin said that only certain parts of Israel’s population were taking part in the high-tech sector and this was harming the country in the long run, pointing to the Bloomberg Index for Innovation where Israel came second out of 78 economies on research and development and first on concentration of researchers, but 30th on manufacturing and on productivity.
“We cannot allow ourselves to have such a gap,” he told the gathering. “We must find a way to an answer with our own hands, hands that know how to implement the wonderful ideas that the Israeli mind knows how to create.
“These hands, these minds are here. The Arab community, the ultra-Orthodox community, suffer under-representation in the high-tech industry, and today it is clear to most of us that this is the solution.”
Rivlin said the number of Arab students in higher education studying subjects relevant to the field of innovation rose by 60% between 2012 and 2016. Israeli Arabs now made up more than four percent of high tech’s employees, up from 0.5% in 2008.
But more had to be done and a government program approved in January to encourage wider participation in the high-tech sector was a positive development.
That program aims to direct students to focus on relevant fields, to invest in training and to ensure effective and relevant training placements.
“Only this morning, a study was published by the chief economist and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, which shows again, in black and white, that integration into Israeli hi-tech is still a function of family background, socioeconomic status and locality of residence, rather than talent, ambition and hard work,” the president said.
“We must change this picture. A clear and practical workplan is needed alongside a courageous vision and uncompromising implementation.”
The president went on: “Everyone who is sitting here today has a responsibility to ensure that the Israeli innovation industry continues to be a pillar of fire lighting the way — this was the dream of my friend Shimon Peres. That was his belief, and now it is in our hands.”
At the event, John Chambers, Executive Chairman of Cisco Systems, said, “In a few years, fifty percent of today’s professions will be irrelevant, and Shimon understood this and acted to prepare the State of Israel for this revolution. “Now is the time to introduce new communities into the world of innovation.”
“Shimon Peres would say to take the vision of hope and translate it into the impossible, then take the impossible and make it probable. He made me better as a leader. Every CEO who met him can say that the vision of the Ninth President made them a better leader,” Chambers added.
Three months before his passing, Peres joined with President Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lay the cornerstone for the establishment of the Israeli Innovation Center, set to open at the Peres Center in 2018.
Spread over 2,500 square meters (27,000 square feet), the center will showcase Israeli innovation.
A memorial event for Peres, attended by Peres family members and former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, among others, was scheduled for Wednesday evening.
On Thursday, Rivlin is due to speak, alongside Tony Blair — former British Prime Minister and Special Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East — at the official state memorial ceremony for the former president.
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