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The Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities themselves are partly responsible for the high unemployment among their members, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told a conference on employment discrimination on Tuesday.

Steinitz said his ministry is currently discussing ways to encourage both communities to increase their work force participation rate, which is currently significantly lower than the Israeli norm. Partly as a result, these communities are also two of Israel's poorest.

At the conference, which took place at the Ono Academic College, Steinitz argued that the low work force participation rate of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men and Arab women is a key problem that "requires a solution, because the very low participation rate of these two groups reduces the state's GDP," or gross domestic product.

This low labor force participation rate cannot be blamed solely on discrimination, he added; it also stems from "cultural barriers" - the Haredi belief that men should study Torah rather than work, and "the view that an Arab woman should stay within her own community."

In addition, he said, there is widespread nonpayment of municipal taxes in Arab and Haredi towns, and as a result, municipal services are being slashed - which ultimately harms the residents themselves.

Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini accused the government of neglecting outlying areas of the country, which contain many Arab and Haredi towns, as well as high concentrations of Ethiopian immigrants. "Unemployment is high in the periphery because traditional industry, with no high-tech, is virtually the only thing there," he said. "Nonpayment of wages by local authorities in the periphery is a symptom of this."

Eini urged the government to finance clerkships in law firms for 1,000 newly certified Haredi, Arab and Ethiopian lawyers each year, to improve their chances of finding a job.

Attorney Nidal Uthman of the Mossawa Center, an Arab advocacy organization, claimed that the real problem was anti-Arab discrimination in every sector of society.

Many companies, he charged, are reluctant to employ Arabs, fearing it will damage their brand. The government itself, he added, "decided that 10 percent of those employed in its offices would be Arabs by the end of 2008, but the rate by that time had reached only 6 percent, so the deadline for reaching 10 percent was postponed to 2012."

And Arabs, he noted, constitute 20 percent of the population.