Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reiterated his desire for the integration of Palestinians and other marginalized groups into the Israeli technology workforce on Tuesday, saying that Israel has “exhausted” its available “bucket of talent.”
“We need just more good people,” the former technology CEO told attendees at Tel Aviv University’s annual Cyber Week.
“I gave an approval, an official approval and the government approved the immediate joining of Palestinian employees in Israeli high-tech, including free movement from the PA [Palestinian Authority] here, and I hope to see it work. I think, folks from Ramallah or Nablus, or whatever, should come, we'll see how it goes.”
Last November, Bennett’s government approved a plan to employ Palestinian workers in Israel’s high-tech sector. The plan, which was set to be implemented over three years, includes a quota of up to 500 Palestinian workers, similar to quotas for other industries, and the employees will be able to work from Israel if required. The quota set in the plan is small compared to the number of Palestinians already working in Israeli high-tech.
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Under the plan, these workers will have to earn a wage of no less than 150 percent of the average salary in Israel. Such a quota will not completely solve the tech worker shortage currently facing Israeli high-tech, but the plan is expected to whet the appetite of Israeli employers, as well as helping to advance the ailing Palestinian economy.
By enlisting ultra-Orthodox men, Arab women, residents of the periphery and Palestinians into the tech sector, “we can unleash another wave of talent and growth in Israel,” Bennett said.
Turning to his tenure as prime minister heading the country’s most diverse coalition to date, which only lasted a year, Bennett said that Israelis had learned that while “we all tend to have prejudices of folks with different opinions,” it “turns out that they are very nice folks.”
“When there's decent people and good people we can all work together for the betterment of Israel. That’s the single biggest achievement of this government.”
Bennett also addressed the tech sector’s role in modern conflict, predicting a significant widening of the role of cyberwar, though noting he was “surprised by the [relative] lack of cyber tools in the war in Ukraine. I thought it would be much more advanced.”
“Today you can get stuff done hitting your enemy through cyber, which in the past would require to covertly send 50-100 commando soldiers behind enemy lines with huge risk, and now you can get a bunch of smart folks sitting behind a keyboard with the same effect, which is why inevitably cyber is going to become one of the most prominent dimensions of future warfare. It just makes sense,” he said.
“On the geopolitical level we're going to see a lot of investment across the world in cyber offense and that’s on a global level and obviously the same applies to crime.”
Likely responding to media reports of recent Israeli strikes against targets within Iran, Bennett said that Israel is “doing pretty well on the defensive side.”
“My approach with our enemies, especially Iran, we don't go around just wrecking havoc in Tehran. That's never been our policy. But our policy is if you mess with Israel you'll pay a price and you can no longer hit Israel through proxies and get away with it. We’re not going to try and fight those folks but hit the bully.”
In addition to Bennett's remarks, Gabi Portnoy, head of the National Cyber Directorate, also said during the conference that Iran has become a key player in cyberspace, along with Hamas and Hezbollah. "We see them, we know how they work and we are there," adding that Israel has blocked about 1,500 cyberattacks in the past year.
Omri Zerachovitz contributed to this report.