It’s not news that there are dreadful gaps in education, employment and income in Israel, in comparison with other OECD countries. But the commonly held view that this is due to the low levels reached in these areas among Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox Jews) and Arabs needs more than a second look.
In fact, in his presentation, ‘A Picture of the Nation’, Professor Dan Ben-David of the Taub Centre in Jerusalem, demonstrates that even if we discount the performance of these groups, Israel’s overall performance barely improves. Ben-David’s point is that Israeli government policies over the last thirty years have created an untenable situation.
There are vast numbers of Israelis holding undergraduate and graduate degrees as well as PhDs relative to other advanced nations, so there is no problem of ‘wisdom’. And investment money is pouring into Israel so there is no problem of resource. And yet, among Israel’s vulnerable socio-economic populations, educational achievement is on a level with the third world.
We’ve seen a reverse over the last three decades in the extraordinary achievements of Israel’s founding generation – we are still reaping the remaining benefits of their investment. But looking forward, if we do not prioritise appropriate educational resource allocation, the trajectory will continue to decline and Israel’s strongest people will simply leave.
I agree wholeheartedly with Professor Ben-David that this is a matter of genuine national security – how can we secure a stable future for all citizens if large swathes of the working age population don’t have the tools to participate in a balanced economy? And if we don’t invest in the Arab and Haredi sector and help raise standards of achievement there, we will increase, not decrease existing tensions.
I heard Professor Ben-David speak on Thursday at a symposium arranged to celebrate the opening of a remarkable new faculty building for the School of Management at Western Galilee College in Akko. The Kaye Family Building was built by the United Jewish Israel Appeal of the UK, together with The Rashi Foundation, the College itself and the Israeli Government. UJIA’s £6 million investment in this three-story state of the art facility is UJIA’s single largest capital project ever.
The School’s mission is to train new cadres of middle management for the private, public and NGO sectors in the Galil, where income is the lowest in the country – just 70% of the national average. The School will be a game changer in offering state of the art business preparation for young people from all communities, so that they have what they need to stay in the region, rather than leave for Tel Aviv.
Crucially, Western Galilee College boasts a student population (over 4,000) which truly reflects the religious diversity of the Galil – about 50% of the students are Jewish and 50% are Muslim, Christian or Druze. Arab women are very well represented at the College, making up 74% of the non-Jewish demographic, and nearly a fifth of the 186 students currently on Management and Economics programmes now to be based in the new faculty building.
This is young Israelis learning together, and hopefully, leading together. And given the events of the weekend in Kafr Kana and elsewhere in the Galil, bringing young Israelis together to study, form connections and hopefully, work together in the future, has to be a national priority.
British Jews, through UJIA, have a deep connection to the Galil. And we have a profound responsibility to partner with Israelis in government, business and private philanthropy to jointly address the educational and employment crises that see Israel performing so poorly by international OECD standards. Our investment in Western Galilee College is a clear and forceful statement that we will not shirk that responsibility.