Treasury Chief: Boosting Arab and Haredi Employment Would Make Israel Rich

Israel would rank among richest nations if it could unlock the potential of its minorities, top finance official says.

Israel would be among the world's richest nations if Arabs and ultra-orthodox Jews could be brought into the economy, Israel's top treasury official said on Wednesday.

"If two groups of people were left out of GDP calculations, Israel would rank among the foremost developed countries," Ministry of Finance Director General Haim Shani said. "They are the Arabs and the Haredis."

"If we could bring them into the labor market we would benefit twice over," he said. "We would close wealth gaps and offer them opportunities on the one hand; and we would profit from their enterpriseon the other."

Addressing a panel at the international Herzliya conference taking place this week, Shani said that Israel was ranked 21st out of 35 developed countries for ease of doing business.

"This is extremely low," he said. "I hope that we at the finance ministry can present a personal example in making Israel more business-friendly."

Israel's economy remained well placed, however, and the country had weathered the global recession better than most, Shani said.

"There are a lot of reasons for the global crisis ? but there is a consensus that Israel went into it as a stable and healthy economy," he told the panel.

"We entered the downturn with five years of successive growth at over five percent."

In order to survive the next crisis, Israel would have to continue to innovate, Shani said, adding that he was pressuring industry leaders to invest more in high technology.