The Shekel Drops / The Discrimination Must Stop

The numbers speak for themselves: 1.5 million Arabs, Druze and Circassians make up 20% of the Israeli population, but contribute only 8% of Israel's gross domestic product.

Almost half of these families live in poverty. Their average household income is only 57% of that of a Jewish household, and their participation in the workforce is almost ridiculously low: only 40%, among men.

For women the figure is less than 20%.

These figures apply to both the Arabs - and to the Druze, who enlist in the Israel Defense Forces and whose loyalty to the state cannot be doubted. The poverty of these groups, it turns out, is not related to, and does not stem from, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though along with the conflict it is Israel's worst internal problem.

There are any number of reasons why minorities in Israel are so poor, work so little, have lower levels of education and contribute so little to the economy.

Perhaps the single most glaring figure of all is the number of women with a college education. It is very small.

A woman must be exceptionally courageous - and exceptionally talented - to buck the accepted norms in these communities and seek higher education. Only a tiny percentage of Arab women dare do it.

But even if they garner the courage, they get nothing for it. Female Arab college graduates simply cannot find jobs. Their official unemployment rate may be low, only about 3%, but that's only because most no longer even waste time in signing up at the Employment Service. They have given up on finding a job and have abandoned the job market, after a third were unable to find work.

The Jewish-secular state has been ignoring the two satellite states dragging along behind it - the ultra-Orthodox Jews and the minorities. Jewish-secular Israel has been sweeping the problems involved with these two peoples and the block they create to economic growth under the rug.

We cannot go on like this. The gaps are unbearable and heart-rending and clearly threaten the stability of Israeli society.

Moreover, these gaps are growing burdens on first-class citizens, who are carrying the two other states on their backs through taxes, that pay for welfare and social services. It was possible to ignore this for long but not when these two states make up more than a third of the country's population.

Things can't go on like this.

Israel is eager to compete with the world's most advanced nations, but can't while carrying the heavy burdens of poor Haredim and Arabs. The weight of the Arab, Druze and Circassian minority is a particularly onerous to many, as opposed to the ultra-Orthodox, who enjoy considerable political clout and choose to separate themselves from the non-religious. The non-Jewish minorities suffer from gross discrimination and deliberate exclusion from the workplace and the centers of power.

There are many reasons for these groups' poverty - their own cultural barriers and the way the Jewish population has treated them: clear discrimination in the workplace and clear discrimination also in infrastructure and education, in government spending on these areas.

Almost everyone who studies Israel's economy points out the minorities as the most serious problem of Israeli society - and also as its greatest opportunity.

If we succeed in integrating our minorities within our society, if we provide them with education and expand their employment opportunities, not only will they benefit, but so, too, will secular Israel. It seems the next big jump in economic growth can only come from them. The time has come to do it.