Israel must invest in its young Arabs, for everyone's sake

Dr. Ahmad Badran credit: Gil Gibli
Dr. Ahmad Badran credit: Gil Gibli

Young Arab-Israeli adults are not fulfilling their potential, to the detriment of Israel in general.

The youth of any society are its future, and this also applies to Arab society in Israel. Young Israeli Arabs have to deal with a complicated set of daily struggles, in every area of life, as they strive to create a better future for themselves, for their community, and for society as a whole.

They are the product of an Arab education system that suffers from many flaws and shortcomings, because it does not receive equal funding with the general state system and the Jewish religious school system. Other problems stem from poor management of local authorities and the inability of Arab local authorities to finance extra educational activities. Then there is the poor quality of teaching in the Arab education system, and obsolete teaching methods.

The transition of young Arabs from high school to young adulthood (ages 18-24) presents complex challenges. There is no set path as there is for most Jewish young people (army, national service, or yeshiva study). There is a broad consensus in Arab society that the main remaining way of becoming successfully integrated into society is through investment in acquiring higher education and a profession.

Many young Arabs, however, do not succeed. In 2021, the percentage of Arab young people with just ten years of education was 6.2%, which compares with 1.5% among Jews of the same age. Those young Arabs who manage to overcome the hurdle of obtaining a good bagrut (high school matriculation) certificate (42.7%, versus 56.2% in the Jewish education system) and the psychometric test hurdle (in 2021, the average psychometric score for those sitting the test in Arabic was 495, versus 579 for those sitting it in Hebrew), do not manage to overcome the language barrier.

Many young Arabs who fail to continue in their studies try to integrate into the labor market, and will generally work in casual, unrewarding jobs involving physical labor or sales, and at wages below the legal minimum. In 2021, 35.9% of young Arabs were employed in management, higher education, the free professions, and technology, versus 57.2% of Jews their age; 29.5% were skilled laborers, versus 8.4% of Jews; 22.1% were employed as clerks or in sales and services, versus 26.6% of Jews; and 7.1% were unskilled laborers, versus 2.7% of Jews.

Because of the limited opportunities for young Arabs, most of them are in great danger of falling into the poverty trap, from which they will find it hard to extricate themselves later on. Therefore, because of the structure of the labor market in Israel and rational cost-benefit considerations, large numbers of Arabs choose to stay out of the labor market. It simply isn’t worth it for them. In 2021, the proportion of young Israeli Arabs who were idle was three times that of their Jewish peers. The recently published State Comptroller’s Report states that "there is a positive correlation between idleness and crime."

Young Arabs in general, but particularly those without an occupation, represent a major challenge that demands special attention from all government authorities and ministries. The way that the situation of these young people is dealt with has important consequences for the Jewish-Arab conflict, for social inequality, for the structure of the labor market, and for the spread of violence and crime in the country. A society that desires a good future for itself and for its young people has to contend with the problem and provide a response to these young people. By this is meant Israeli society in general, not just Arab society, because everyone will gain.

The spread of crime, violence, and illegal weapons does not just affect Arab society, but harms the quality of life and the personal security of Jews as well. Moreover, reducing the phenomenon of idleness among young people means aspiring to integrate them into further education and the labor market, which will lead to a rise in productivity. The State Comptroller calculated the annual cost to the economy of idleness among young Arabs as NIS 1 billion.

At the same time, campaigns must continue to change government policies and to allocate resources to comprehensive programs that will enable the potential of every young person to be realized. Resources should be invested in language laboratories in every Arab school for learning Hebrew (and English); in adapting the school curriculum; and in training teaching staff. In addition, Jewish employers should be given incentives to hire young Arabs, in conjunction with suitable training programs. It’s not just for their sake, but for the sake of Israeli society as a whole.

The writer is a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on May 11, 2023.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

Dr. Ahmad Badran credit: Gil Gibli
Dr. Ahmad Badran credit: Gil Gibli
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