| 2021 | 17:00
High-tech in East Jerusalem
- In Hebrew
- In Hebrew
Opening remarks: Anna Cohen-Kohler, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty
The last few days were a clear demonstration of the fact that the fate of each of the two parts of Jerusalem depends on the other; the only way to face the challenges is to work hand-in-hand with all relevant bodies and officials in the municipality, government, and civil society, to quickly and efficiently promote solutions.
The Naumann Foundation views the new technologies as a means to find solutions to the challenges at hand. This is why the Foundation promotes projects which combine economic development, innovation and entrepreneurship, and education and equal opportunities.
In addition, the Foundation supports a forum consisting of entrepreneurs and business men and women who focus on the economic aspects of the conflict. Our speaker today, Hazem Khattab, is one of the forum’s members. Over the years, many East Jerusalem residents have left Jerusalem for Ramallah, which has turned into an economic center (including for hi-tech industries), and we are convinced that we must attract young and creative entrepreneurs back to Jerusalem to create independence, and personal and financial empowerment.
A review of the state of hi-tech in Jerusalem: Yamit Naftali, the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research
At the Jerusalem Institute, we have been following the hi-tech industry in Jerusalem for the last seven years, by collecting data, developing policy tools, and conducting evaluation and in-depth research.
During the last five years, we have witnessed a 45% increase in the number of hi-tech companies in Jerusalem. The number of employees, too, has risen slightly, but the relative proportion of hi-tech in Jerusalem in relation to hi-tech throughout Israel, remains unchanged, at 6%. This is because parallel growth to that of Jerusalem has occurred throughout Israel.
In addition, there was an 11% increase in the number of Jerusalemites employed in the hi-tech sector. That is – more employment opportunities were created, in accordance with the goal of the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, to raise the number of hi-tech workers in the city. More than 60% of these workers live in Jerusalem, and 20% live in the surrounding metropolitan area.
The larger the company, the more it can afford to employ students or those with little experience in the field, and bear the cost of their training. For this reason, it is important to include large companies in the Jerusalem hi-tech eco-system. However, 70% of the companies in the city are small. Indeed, since this is the situation throughout Israel, the challenge of helping existing companies grow, or establishing large companies should be seen as a national challenge.
Jerusalem enjoys a comparative advantage in bio-tech – 9% of Israel’s bio-tech industry is located in Jerusalem, and 29% of all hi-tech companies in Jerusalem are actually bio-tech companies. This sector is growing too – with a 33% increase in the number of companies, as well as an increase in the number of workers.
At the Jerusalem Institute, we also monitor the integration of different sectors of the population in the hi-tech industry, among them – the Arab sector. It is clear that Israeli Arabs have largely been absent from the hi-tech field for many years. Arab employees make up some 1-2% of all hi-tech workers, and this number is stable. On the other hand the rate of Arab students in Jerusalem studying subjects relevant to the hi-tech industry is 13%, but this figure is not reflected in the actual labor market.
Keynote speaker: Hazem Khattab, hi-tech field director in the Co-Impact Partnership for a Breakthrough in Arab Employment
Co-Impact is an initiative to promote employment in the Arab society in Israel and especially in Jerusalem. The initiative began its work in 2014, initiated by Yifat Ovadia, a lawyer, and Dr. Samir Kasem, who had taken part in the Wexner Foundation program in Harvard University in Boston, where they were exposed to the “Collective Impact” model as a means for problem-solving. They examined the feasibility of applying the model on the subject of employment in the Arab sector, focusing on employment of academics in the business sector.
After 18 months of research among business companies, they have reached the conclusion that there are hardly any Arab employees in such companies, and existing Arab employees are, for the most part, employed in low-level jobs. In high-level jobs, only 0.3% of the employees are Arabs. This should be compared to the percentage of Arabs in Israel’s population, which is 21%. On the other hand, they found that there are some 80,000 academics in the Arab sector that are unemployed or employed in different fields from those they studied. The researchers found that 50% of those academics do not even try to submit their CVs to Israeli-owned companies, thereby ruling themselves out from the outset.
Co-Impact’s modus operandi
Co-Impact first began to work with five large companies, which included Amdocs, Osem and Coca-Cola. Today, after four years of implementing the models developed, Co-Impact follows employees in 44 companies. The vision of the initiative is to reach 100 companies within 10 years, in which Arabs are employed in significant roles and in significant numbers. The approach is to apply to large companies, and to slowly grow from there.
- Approaching the company’s senior management. The company decides it wishes to work together with Co-Impact.
- Providing training and guidance to the company’s Human Resources, to recruiters and to key personnel in the company.
- Conducting a diagnostic process with the organization – over the period of some 30-40 meetings, aimed at understanding the reasons why the company may want to employ Arab workers and why they need Arab workers; outlining modes of action for the next two to three years, and going ahead.
- Co-Impact accompanies the employees’ recruiting process, from identification, through recruiting, absorption and during their work. Co-Impact accompanies them, to see how they are accepted and the ways in which they contribute to the company, checking how both employee and employer make the most of their potential, and examining options for promotions.
- During the recruitment process, Co-Impact instructs the companies on how to interview, how to ensure correct absorption, how to integrate workers within the organization, how to operate in times of political tension, and more. The process is undertaken using research tools from the fields of Organizational and Occupational Psychology, working together with the aChord center, a non-profit organization that specializes in the social psychology of intergroup relations.
Among the partners are governmental offices and bodies – Israel’s National Social Security Agency, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry for Social Equality, and some 40 non-government organizations, of which some 10-12 on a daily basis.
There is also an activity in higher education institutions, in two ways:
- Accompanying changes in the institution’s personnel
- Working with both students and graduates and preparing them to apply to potential employers on the conclusion of their studies.
Additionally, Co-Impact has a Business Council, consisting of high-level managers in both Arab and Israeli companies. These high-level officials meet occasionally to discuss relevant issues. They also meet with government personnel, such as Ministry of Finance officials, to discuss various challenges and possible governmental support. In addition to the Business Council, there is a philanthropy forum, supporting such activities. And to conclude, the initiative is also supported by the President of Israel’s flagship program, “Israeli Hope”, a program focusing on strengthening statehood and establishing partnership between the four main sectors that comprise Israeli society: secular, religious, ultra-Orthodox, and Arab. Within this framework bi-annual meetings are held with the president, who also receives progress reports and follows the program closely.
Main challenges in the employment of Arab workers in the hi-tech sector
Co-Impact also works with hi-tech companies. Further to the data that Yamit described earlier, the numbers are both challenging and encouraging. Khattab elaborated as follows:
- Arabs make up 2.3% of the Israeli hi-tech sector. This stood at 3%, but during COVID-19, the numbers dropped. In recent years, the number of Arab students studying hi-tech subjects has doubled and is now 13% – with women making up one third of the students.
- In the Palestinian Authority, there are approximately 20,000 hi-tech workers in 350 companies. In East Jerusalem there are two small hi-tech firms. Those employed in the hi-tech sector make up 3% of all employees in the Palestinian Authority. Over 50% of these companies cooperate either with Israeli or with international companies.
- Most of the students in East Jerusalem find it easier to work in Ramallah or Bethlehem following graduation, than to work in Jerusalem or other Israeli cities, because of all the barriers they encounter in Israeli firms – exactly those barriers that we in Co-Impact are trying to overcome: cultural and psychological barriers, not being fluent in Hebrew, etc. On the other hand, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there are approximately 15,000 students in East Jerusalem annually, among whom 300 who study disciplines related to hi-tech.
- 79% of East Jerusalem students study in Arab countries, in the Palestinian Authority, or in other countries. Only 21% are studying at Israeli universities.
- Some 1,000 people who are employed in hi-tech-related jobs live in East Jerusalem. But they do not work in the city – they work in Herzliya, Tel Aviv, and even in Nazareth.
- The proportion of those both living and working in Jerusalem is less than 1%. They work mainly in Customer Support for international clients, as their principal advantage is their work availability over the Sabbath. Yet they are not employed in “real” hi-tech jobs, such as computer programming and product management.
- Among those working outside of Jerusalem, there are some who work in more senior jobs. Outside Jerusalem more opportunities exist, primarily due to our in-depth work with those particular companies, and the breaking down of barriers.
- The cost of employment in Jerusalem is much higher than in the Palestinian Authority, and this explains why Arab hi-tech firms do not wish to establish their companies in Jerusalem. The Israeli government does not support entrepreneurs who wish to open firms and employ East Jerusalem workers. Some government decisions regarding subsidies have been taken, but it appears that either this information was not conveyed to the entrepreneurs in question, or they know about the existence of such subsidies but do not wish to take them up, because some of them work within the area of the Palestinian Authority, and do not wish to split their work between the two locations.
- The conclusion from the above is that Jerusalem is missing-out on the many students who graduate each year after studying disciplines relevant to hi-tech. They are employed in Israel or in the Palestinian Authority, each according to their preference and study track, but are not actually employed in Jerusalem. This in turn worsens poverty within the Arab society in Jerusalem. And poverty, in turn, causes children to leave school in order to make a living, thus preventing them from continuing their education and having the possibility to gain higher salaries. We see a vicious circle in the making.
- Another issue to be taken into account is that in East Jerusalem there are two different school curriculums – the Palestinian and the Israeli. In addition, there is an abundance of Christian and Muslim privately-owned “private” schools. These schools are owned by businessmen – with each deciding whether to follow the Israeli or the Palestinian curriculum, or perhaps to serve as a vocational-training school or a technological school. And we should not forget the school network operated by the Palestinian Authority and the Waqf. As you can imagine – the level of education varies considerably. Employers generally do not understand this, and automatically reject candidates on the basis of where an applicant went to school. They do not check whether the person in front of them is talented or not, and are not adequately aware of the differences between the educational institutions and their academic level, neither in Jerusalem nor in Israel at large. In addition, not knowing Hebrew automatically rules out a person from getting a job, even if he or she is extremely talented. In such a case, they will not even get the chance to prove themselves.
- Today, following Co-Impact’s work with many companies, and a growing awareness of the limitations of the language barrier, some workplaces now pay for their employees to study Hebrew.
- Yet another barrier is competition from IDF (Israel Defense Forces) alumni, especially those who may have served in Intelligence and Cyber units.
- And finally, Arab students and Arab job-seekers lack networking – they do not have an extensive web of connections (they don’t know people who know people) within Israeli firms and the hi-tech sector.
Six recommendations to help deal with the challenges of employment in the hi-tech field
- Raising awareness in schools – see, for example, the non-profit organization that Khattab established together with Jerusalem hi-tech officials, which operate programs in schools with the aim of directing pupils to hi-tech and disciplines related to hi-tech. This is done by arranging meet-ups and extra-curricular lessons to expose pupils to the fields of technology, science and engineering, by offering computer-programming courses for children, and other educationally-aimed activities aimed to pique the pupils’ curiosity.
- Developing programs for professional training.
- Working with the government so it will create growth engines and incentives to establish new companies and encourage the employment of East Jerusalem residents within Jerusalem.
- A massive expansion in digitalization in fields such as tourism and health, and in businesses who currently have no online presence. The aim of this move is to offer more hi-tech jobs and employment opportunities.
- Opening special training programs in companies during the academic year, aimed at East Jerusalem students
- Encouraging the opening of new companies or branches of existing companies in East Jerusalem.
Our hope is that all these activities will help break the cycle of poverty in East Jerusalem. We hope this will help families, create role models for local kids and teenagers, and develop a better economy that will improve everyone’s life.
The role of the Israeli Employment Service: Reuven Adra’i, The Israeli Employment Service
In the last year we have been operating several projects regarding hi-tech in East Jerusalem. Hazem Khattab is our partner in one of these.
Our main project this year, in collaboration with the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, Co-Impact and the Azrieli College of Engineering, is the operation of two courses, which will help students gain connections with hi-tech companies, including some measure of work experience during the academic year. The most significant barrier is the students’ lack of fluent Hebrew, irrespective of which high school or university these students studied at beforehand. This is why an integral part of our courses consists of improving their Hebrew – reading materials in the subject and expanding their hi-tech-related vocabulary. I believe that if we and our partners accompany this activity well, we will find where to place the courses’ alumni. We also work with the students on raising their willingness to apply to hi-tech firms. This project is not a simple task, and will be measured by its outcome.
It should be noted that we did not make any concessions in accepting students. We published a public call for students, and selected 60 from over 500 applicants. We chose only the best, those who can be future role models. I deeply oppose giving handouts. The Arab sector is full of talented people who can succeed, and this is the key. We don’t have to make it easier than it is. We have to constantly monitor the program, so that there are no drop-outs. We have selected good programs, which are economically feasible. So let’s discuss this again in a few months, when we see the results of this first experiment.
Mas’ada Jaber, the Public Participation Unit of the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage in East Jerusalem Development Ltd
Hazem accurately described the reality and challenges in East Jerusalem.
From my experience in recruiting East Jerusalem students to hi-tech jobs, I have seen that the most significant barrier is that of language – students’ fluency in Hebrew. Our aim was to introduce some graduates of the Palestinian Academy to courses offered by the Israeli Employment Service and the Azrieli College of Engineering, thus offering them a chance, narrowing gaps and integrating them within the Israeli employment market. But what I am hearing from these graduates is that when they try their luck with hi-tech jobs they are not accepted, whether because of the level of their Hebrew or as a result of other challenges that Hazem didn’t elaborate on. But I would like to remind us all: not all jobs are open to East Jerusalemites. Cyber-security companies, for example, hardly employ Arabs, due to security reasons. This is a shame. The Palestinian academy is very strong with regard to hi-tech, and all partners should consider how we can narrow the gaps between studying in the Palestinian academy and working in the Israeli market.
Liron Iflach, Ministry for Jerusalem and Heritage, coordinating the five-year plan for East Jerusalem
I believe that most of you are familiar with Government Decision Number 3790, which also deals with employment. We are constantly trying to improve in this area and reach our goals. The projects described by Reuven and Mas’ada are actually outside the scope of the decision and this significant budget. The work must be done in close cooperation, working also with the Public Participation Unit in East Jerusalem Development Ltd, who work hard to match each person with the most relevant training course for their needs. We are open for cooperation regarding any initiative in the field, and I call for the development of more initiatives, such as that of the Israeli Employment Service. If we wish to raise the numbers and achieve different results, we must find solutions for each and every constraint.
Itzik Ozer, the Jerusalem Development Authority
The Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, and the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) have, for the last five or six years, been investing in various programs and in every attempt to put hi-tech ‘on the map’ in East Jerusalem. Unfortunately, only two hi-tech companies are operating in East Jerusalem. And even these two are not genuine hi-tech companies, as they focus mainly on Customer Support. In this sense, this is a failure for which we are all accountable.
I would like to say, on a different note to what we have heard here earlier, that in one of the projects we recruited very large companies that agreed to try and find employees from East Jerusalem. Many Palestinian candidates were interviewed, and I must say that unfortunately, the gaps were too large – both regarding the candidates’ quality and their basic knowledge. The companies were not searching for the best candidates – they knew that there are gaps and failures; the companies were willing to be more flexible, but even so, most candidates did not pass. We don’t want to give up this move, and are trying to open another training course. The companies’ owners are eager to recruit Arab employees and I don’t see a cultural gap in this sense. What they are focusing on is talent. And in this sense Israeli college students also have a tough time, in comparison to university graduates. The companies are looking for a high level of talent. They don’t have the privilege of giving up on good employees, because there are currently some 13,000 jobs waiting to be filled in Israel. The companies don’t care who the employee is, they simply need good human resources. Finally, we in the JDA will be happy to take part in any cooperation that can enable the establishment of hi-tech companies in East Jerusalem. In the past we published advertisements in East Jerusalem, offering grants for initiatives and companies interested in starting hi-tech companies. All grants are open to such companies, all are translated into Arabic, and we even avoid explicitly stating the JDA’s name in the adverts, so that there will be no concern that an Israeli body is trying to “take over” East Jerusalem. All we are interested in seeing is economic development. I wish that a company from East Jerusalem would come forward and request the grant, but so far no one has. We are eager to find talented employees and entrepreneurs.
The discussion was led by Dr. Amnon Ramon, coordinator of the East Jerusalem Forum, the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research. The event was supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.