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Nonprofit Addresses Divide in Israel’s High-Tech Sector

By Lindsey Anderson

Professor Erran Carmel introduces two leaders of the Israeli nonprofit Tsofen on Nov. 9.

Professor Erran Carmel introduces two leaders of the Israeli nonprofit Tsofen on Nov. 9.

The Israeli high-tech industry has been incredibly successful in the past few years, but Arab Israeli citizens do not have access to the sector, said Ramzi Halabi, chairman of an Israeli NGO named Tsofen, that aims to increase the group's participation.

Halabi and Smadar Nehab, Tsofen's executive director, addressed the divide during an event at Kogod on November 9. It was sponsored in part by Kogod's Information Technology Department and the Center for Israel Studies.

Outside of the United States, Israel has the highest number of high-tech companies listed on NASDAQ, and corporations such as Intel and Cisco Systems will continue investing billions of dollars in Israel in the coming years, noted the moderator, Information Technology Professor Erran Carmel.

"It is clear the high-tech sector leads the Israeli economy, but Arab Israelis don't have access to the high-tech sector," Halabi said.

There are two main economies in Israel: the Jewish economy that enjoys the benefits of Israel's high-tech boom, and the excluded, poor, and not-modernized Arab economy, Halabi said.

In the Jewish economy, 60 percent of the population participates in the workforce, including 57 percent of women. In the Arab economy, only 40 percent of the population participates in the workforce, including only 21 percent of women.

"Tsofen is letting in the people from the second economy," Halabi said. "What does that mean? Equal opportunity for employment in the high tech industry."

Although 20% of Israeli citizens are Arab, often Arab graduates in fields such as biomedicine or engineering are not invited to job interviews after graduation as their Jewish colleagues are, Nehab said.

There are about 85,000 jobs for Jews in Israel's high-tech sector and about 40,000 Jewish science and engineering graduates, Nehab said. On the contrary, there are only about 450 jobs for Arabs in the sector when there are 2,400 Arab science and engineering graduates from Israeli universities.

Prejudice does not explain the disparity, Nehab said. Arab graduates often lack prior networking experience, job interviews are highly skewed, and the geographic distance between Israel’s high-tech hub in the center of the country and the Arab communities in the north and south also account for the difference.

So Tsofen steps in.

The NGO offers training programs and networking opportunities for graduates as well as internship programs and job placement. Over 80% of Tsofen graduates get jobs in the high-tech sector, and half of those who do not decided the industry was not for them.

"We provide the graduates with what they are missing when compared with their Israeli counterparts," Nehab said.

Tsofen also promotes the growth of the high-tech industry in Arab communities, such as Nazareth, by consulting with municipalities and securing government support.

"The Israeli government has to participate for the high-tech sector to come to Arab communities," Nehab said.

In Nazareth, with some government support and 110 students already graduated from three Tsofen training courses, the number of high-tech positions in the city has risen from 30 to 200.