Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Israel’s Arab Citizens Series: The Arab Glass Ceiling

Israel’s Arab Citizens Series: The Arab Glass Ceiling

November 16, 2011 in 2011 January-February, Israel
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This is the third installment of Moment’s series on Israel’s 1.5 million Arab citizens. The first traced the evolution of one family’s identity from Arab to Palestinian-Israeli. The second explored the separate and unequal education of Israel’s Arab children. This story delves into the economic disparity between Israel’s Arabs and Jews, with a special focus on jobs in the high-tech sector. It is written by David B. Green, an editor and writer at the English language edition of Haaretz. Read the first two stories here and here.

THE ARAB GLASS CEILING

The overtrained and underemployed among Israel’s Arabs long for a good job—and equal opportunities. after decades, Israelis—Jewish and Arab—are working together to crack the glass.

The coffee shop in Baka al-Garbiyah, about 40 miles from Tel Aviv, is sparsely furnished with just a few tables and fluorescent lights. Unlike crowded, fashionable cafés in Israel’s Jewish cities with scurrying waitstaff and seemingly endless menus, there is no sign of food and only a handful of customers. A flat-screen TV hanging from the ceiling is tuned to a Syrian station broadcasting footage of pilgrims circumnavigating the Kaaba in Mecca, where the annual Hajj is underway. Running across the bottom of the screen are up-to-date prayer times for various destinations around the Muslim world.

The coffee shop in Baka al-Garbiyah, about 40 miles from Tel Aviv, is sparsely furnished with just a few tables and fluorescent lights. Unlike crowded, fashionable cafés in Israel’s Jewish cities with scurrying waitstaff and seemingly endless menus, there is no sign of food and only a handful of customers. A flat-screen TV hanging from the ceiling is tuned to a Syrian station broadcasting footage of pilgrims circumnavigating the Kaaba in Mecca, where the annual Hajj is underway. Running across the bottom of the screen are up-to-date prayer times for various destinations around the Muslim world.

Drinking coffee across the table from me is Afif Abu Much, 29, a graduate of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the country’s most prestigious engineering institution. One of Israel’s 1.5 million Arab citizens, he’s a good-looking man with a shaved head, sporting a very light mustache and beard. Baka al-Garbiyah is his hometown: It’s a small city of 30,000 Arabs located in what is known as “The Triangle,” a concentration of Israeli Arab towns and villages to the southeast of Haifa, where some 20 percent of the country’s Arab citizens reside.

Abu Much (pronounced mookh) commutes each day from Baka al-Garbiyah to his job as a systems engineer at SAP Labs Israel—owned by the Germany-based SAP, the world’s largest enterprise-software company—situated in a high-tech industrial park in Ra’anana. He takes the commute in stride because as an Arab, he has learned, he is fortunate to have a job in his field. Always “super-good in science,” he was accepted to the Technion at a time when increasing numbers of Arab students have gained admission to Israel’s elite universities. But upon graduation, he found that his top-notch credentials didn’t translate into a position as an engineer. “I applied to jobs at companies in Haifa, Herzliya, Yokneam, Yavne, Jerusalem, Rosh Ha’ayin, Rehovot and Ra’anana, all over the country: None of them were interested.” After a long year, SAP hired him for a trial period in an installation-services job for which he was overqualified. With his foot in the door, he was promoted to quality assurance, then finally to integration engineer, working largely on software for cloud computing—Internet-based storage—together with a SAP team in Palo Alto, California.

Thousands of qualified Arab engineers in Israel are either unemployed, working in unrelated fields or teaching high school, despite the fact that technology is the country’s main growth industry, accounting for 40 percent of Israel’s exports. (Israel is second only to the U.S. in the number of firms listed on the NASDAQ exchange.) Trained engineers are in such demand that approximately 8,000 highly skilled jobs in Israeli firms have been outsourced to India, China and Eastern Europe in recent years.
In general, Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Jews and Ethiopians who have academic and professional degrees face obstacles finding work in the mainstream, but Arabs have it the worst, according to a study conducted last year by the Kiryat Ono Academic College. Jewish employers responding to the survey revealed a general unwillingness to even consider hiring Arabs, whereas ultra-Orthodox and Ethiopians were more likely to face difficulties getting promoted. Banks, law firms, advertising agencies and even the civil service are largely closed to Arabs. Mohammad Darawshe, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, an NGO that works toward the integration of Arabs into Israeli society, notes that some 15,000 Arabs with university degrees are unable to find work in their fields, or any work at all. One anomaly is in the field of healthcare: Not only do all Israelis have equal access to the country’s public medical institutions, but Arabs are employed at every level of the system, including as physicians and administrators.

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