Analysis |

The Barriers Stifling Israeli Arab Participation in the Job Market

Most members of the community have limited exposure to Israeli Jewish society, and that's just the first of their problems

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Women stand in line at the employment office in Wadi Joz, East Jerusalem.Credit: Tali Meyer

The number of college and university students from Israel’s Arab community has increased steadily in recent years – 80% over the past seven years. Yet the rate at which graduates find employment in their fields has not kept pace.

Only 22% of Arab graduates are employed full-time in the fields they studied, according to research by an Arab-community employment NGO, Kav Mashve, in cooperation with the Edmond De Rothschild Fund.

The result is a growing pool of unemployed college graduates, many of them forced to work at a much lower salary than their potential reflects. This phenomenon has a steep social and economic price, with Israel’s economy losing some 40 billion shekels ($11 billion) as a result.

There are three main factors behind this phenomenon – the state, employers and Arab society. The state and the employers’ role is unquestioned, so we’ll focus on Arab society’s role and the four barriers we found.

1. The cultural barrier

In our work at Kav Mashve, we found a trend among senior Arab managers and executives of early and intensive exposure to Israeli Jewish society, which gave them the ability to navigate Israeli culture. This gave them an advantage by being bicultural.

Most Arab young people are monocultural and have limited exposure to Jewish Israeli culture. Also, few Arabs serve in the army, Israeli society’s great melting pot.

2. The family barrier

The Arab family is a protective environment, but it can also be confining. It’s not surprising that Arab young people choose to study teaching and medicine, which meet the need for status and security. Families encourage women to go to college, but it’s also expected that the woman will be the household’s secondary wage earner so that she can have children and take care of the family.

Men, in comparison, face pressure from a young age over the expectation to earn an income and build a home for their future family. Thus in recent years we have seen a decrease in the percentage of male Arab students, and even a decline in their scores on matriculation exams.

3. The identity barrier

Members of the Arab community are born into multiple identities: Arab, Palestinian, Israeli, sometimes Circassian, and whatever religion they may have – Muslim, Christian or Druze. The mix of competing and conflicting messages makes it difficult to form a coherent identity and creates a surplus of loyalties, pushing them away from their Israeli identity.

4. The psychological barrier

When we meet students and job seekers, we meet many talented people with low self esteem who feel they’re not worthy of key positions at leading companies. These four barriers make them risk averse – and they fear both failure and success.

The bottom line: Arab college graduates aren’t finding appropriate employment befitting an appropriate society, with the exception of those in the medical and paramedical professions.

Current plans involving formal and informal education address various aspects of the problem. Innovative intervention plans are needed to address these barriers and let all of Arab society’s human capital be exploited.

Gal is chief executive of Kav Mashve, Asaad is vice president, and Jubran manages the business club program.