Israel touted its flourishing high-tech industry to US President Obama during his recent visit, showing off innovations in search and rescue, robotics, and alternative energy that the president deemed “inspiring.”
President Obama was also introduced to Saeed Kharouf, an Arab engineer at the Haifa plant of high-tech powerhouse Intel, who told him he wanted to one day become the company’s president.
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But presidential visits and photo ops aside, diversity is not a strong suit of Israeli high tech. Only 1.4 percent of Israel’s 85,000 high-tech workers – who collectively command the highest salaries in the country – are Arab, even though Arabs make up 20 percent of the population.
An effort to break down the industry’s barriers to Arabs is under way. Tsofen, an ambitious Jewish-Arab nonprofit organization based here in the heart of the Galilee, is working to increase the minority group’s representation in the high-tech industry by providing Arab job applicants with skills, coaching, and connections.
At stake is the ability of Israel’s Arab minority to overcome chronic poverty and to achieve equality with Israeli Jews, Tsofen’s directors say. Fifty-three percent of Israeli Arabs are below the poverty line, three times the percentage of Jews, according to the Adva Center, a Tel Aviv social affairs think tank.
”It is a known fact that high tech is the engine of growth of the Israeli economy,” says Tsofen executive director Smadar Nehab. ”We want it to be the engine of growth of the Arab economy in Israel.”
Israeli Arabs have faced economic and political marginalization for decades and remain excluded from ruling government coalitions by both right and left. The sense of being shunned is palpable among young people hoping to break in to high tech.
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Via the Christian Science Monitor