After President Reuven Rivlin met with Arab regional council heads last Thursday and promised them a new Arab city, likewise calling to teach all Israeli children Arabic, he held a follow-up meeting on Sunday evening aimed at further integrating Arab workers in the job market, particularly in executive positions.
The meeting at the President's Residence in Jerusalem launched a new project between the President's Office and the Collective Impact initiative to increase Arab employment. In attendance were top CEOs, including Ofra Strauss of the Strauss Group, Ilan Birnfeld of Deloitte, Shai Levy of Amdocs, Imad Telhami of Babcom and others.
"The Arab community of the state of Israel has for a while now, not been a minority," claimed Rivlin at the meeting. "The Arab public, with all its diversity, today makes up more than 20% of the general population, and more than a quarter of the children in first grade."
Noting on how this fact may affect Israel's Jewish nature, he added "one may like it, one may fear it, but one cannot ignore it. This is a community, part and parcel of this land, for whom this land is their homeland. It is a community with a cultural, religious, ethnic, and national identity."
Rivlin did not clarify what he meant by "national identity," although given that he singled out the Arab citizens of Israel as having a national identity of their own apparently would imply a claimed Palestinian Arab identity countering their Israeli identity.
The president called building a gap between the Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel "a humanitarian, Jewish, Zionist, and national mission of the very highest priority."
Referencing two Arab towns noted for violent rioting and opposition to Israel's existence, he said the new project is meant to build "hope for a future in which the Israeli market will know how to grant the young man from Rahat, and the young lady from Umm Al-Fahm, the 'Israeli dream'" of economic opportunities.
In the meeting, a comprehensive study on Arab employment conducted by a business consultancy, Shaldor, was presented. The study included interviews with CEOs, senior managers, and human resource professionals from around 50 of Israel’s leading companies.
The survey found that Arab citizens, who make up 20% of Israel's population, represent 15% of the work force and an 8% contribution to the GDP. It also found Arab citizens have a 44% rate of poverty and 25% rate of unemployment, although there have been reports claiming widespread undocumented labor practiced so as to avoid paying income taxes.
In middle management or administrative positions, the survey found an average of 0.3% Arab employees, with the main obstacle to employing Arab workers listed by 80% of employers being the lack of access to suitable Arab candidates.
Rivlin said he would establish a quarterly business leadership forum for managers of companies involved in the project, to assist the professional bodies increase Arab employment.