Arabs in Israel – the economic angle

Just over 20% of Israel’s population is not Jewish. Legislation unambiguously protects the rights of religious and ethnic minorities. And yes, you can see more and more non-Jews represented at the top of professions, such as medicine, the law and even in the diplomatic corps.

Yet the painful truth is that equality before the law does not ensure equality when resources are handed out. It is an open secret that many communities have been starved of budgets by successive governments.

So, it is pleasing to report on two initiatives that will break this pattern. The first emerges from the private sector.

Pitango venture capital’s co-manager, Nechemia “Chemi” Peres (son of President Peres), credits…. the next economic breakthrough in the Arab population. Pitango has won a tender for a joint government-private sector fund to invest precisely there. He foresees the fund, Al-Bawadir (“buds” in Arabic) repeating the success of the government venture capital fund Yozma, which nurtured high-tech and created a breakthrough not only in deed but also in awareness.

The initial combined value of the new fund is around US$45 million. It has received the support of two prominent investors in the Arab Israeli sector, Jimmy Levy of the Jewish-Arab company Galil Software and Habib Hazan, a former manager at McKinsey & Co.

The fund also has the blessing of the Minister for Minority Affairs, Prof Avishai Braverman. The former chief of the Beer Sheva University, is also sponsoring a government initiative to invest 800 million shekels (about US$220 million) in 14 targeted cities and towns covering Druze, Muslim, Circasse and other minority groups.

The money will be devoted to specific economic and social projects, such as encouraging SMEs, subsidising new homes for young couples, youth enterprises, etc. In each municipality, the mayor will set up local coordination committees. Milestones will be set. Hope will be installed.

In an interview with the Hebrew newspaper Yediot Ahronot, Braverman explains that he is under no illusions. The money is but a drop in a vast ocean. It cannot make up for years of neglect.

However, the professor also makes an interesting observation. Most Israeli Arabs have consistently proved their loyalty to the country. For example, the Bedouin are historically known as the best trackers in the army. The two initiatives are a public and significant way to show that there is demonstrative change in the air. Israel’s neighbours can learn from this example.

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