Arab business conference
Participants at the Arab business conference ringing the opening bell of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange from Nazareth yesterday. Photo by Hagai Frid
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The Israeli business community is paying increasing attention to the potential of business development among Israel's Arab population. Speaking at an Arab business conference on Wednesday in Nazareth, Bank Hapoalim CEO Yair Seroussi called the Arab population the sector with the fastest potential for growth. Bank Hapoalim currently has 19 branches in Arab population centers and plans to open five more in the coming year.

The bank was the lead commercial sponsor for yesterday's conference, which was attended by 400 Arabs and Jews, and convened by the Arabic-language business monthly Malakom.

"The market share of Arabs in the banking sector is small, much smaller than for Jews, but that's an opportunity," said Seroussi. He added that there have been improvements in educational attainment in the Arab community which will eventually raise household income levels. The potential lies in the combination of better education and a sizable population of young people, he explained, particularly among Israeli Arabs entering the medical profession.

"If Israel wants to attain economic growth of 6% to 7%, it must allocate budgets to close the economic disparities," said Ayman Saif, the director of the Economic Development Authority in the Minority Sector, which is part of the Prime Minister's Office.

Arabs in Israel produce only 0.1% of exports

Saif told the conference audience in Nazareth that in contrast to previous years, economic development among Israel's Arab population was now on the government agenda. He spoke of a five-year government plan to allocate NIS 800 million to Israeli Arab communities, which will be directed in part to creating new industrial zones and to public transportation.

Israel's Arab population produces just 0.1% of Israel's exports, the director of the Israel Export Institute at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, Avi Hefetz told the Nazareth conference.Israeli Arabs represent 20% of the population but produce only 8% of Israel GDP, he added. Hefetz said Israeli Arab businesses should be encouraged to seek out customers overseas.