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March 31, 2014 12:18 pm

Israel Economy Minister Bennett: ‘Key to Peace is to Work Together’

avatar by Joshua Levitt

Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. Photo: WikiCommons.

Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. Photo: WikiCommons.

Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday addressed discrimination in the Israeli labor market at an employment conference where he implored hiring managers to cross racial, ethnic and gender lines when hiring new workers.

“The key to peace is to work together,” Bennett said. “A country that wants to live in peace with its neighbors, must first live in peace with itself. Respect for others, to accept others, and to work with others,” he told the annual Employment Commission Equality Opportunities Conference at Bar-Ilan University’s Wohl Centre.

“I believe in the importance of equality of opportunities. A country should not only strive for equality in results, but for equality of opportunity,” Bennett said.

“Today, unfortunately, where you were born has a dramatic impact on your opportunities – whether you were born in an Arab village or in Bnei Brak, whether you are Ethiopian or female,” Bennett said. “Just because of the color of your skin, or the geography of your birth, your chances of succeeding are much smaller. We want every person to enjoy equal opportunity to realize their dreams. This is a dramatic mission which begins in the education system. We, at the Ministry of Economy, aim to narrow the gap as much as possible, and to achieve equal opportunity to the greatest possible extent.”

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“To employers I say, ‘do not be suckers (frierim)’,” Bennett said. “Hire those from other communities and accept them.”

“When different people, with different backgrounds and who think differently sit together, good things happen,” he said. “In order to help employers who understand the economic potential of ensuring equal opportunities and diversity in the workplace, we offer economic incentives, employment centers and guidance for employees, professional training and workshops to best prepare workers for the labor market. We provide professional training in the required fields, as well as guidance and legal support for employers who want to integrate diverse populations in their workforce.”

William Grant, U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Israel, said the debate in Israel mirrors what happened in the U.S., where the outcome showed that a mixed labor force generated greater innovation.

“In the U.S., equal employment opportunity has been at the heart of the discussion for decades,” Grant said. “Like Israel, the United States is a diverse and frequently changing population. The challenge is to move from talking about the concepts of promoting equal opportunities towards the target of implementing them in the labor market.”

“The basic formula is not only to create a diverse workforce, but to use this to produce services and products that lead the organization or business to thrive,” he said. “Companies benefit from more tolerant work place environments and a greater understanding of the markets and customers they serve. I guess that in Israel, each business would like to better understand how to reach the ultra-Orthodox, Arab, Ethiopian, and LGBT communities.”

Michal Tzuk, Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Economy, said, “The Israeli government has a very clear objective regarding increasing the rate of employment, first and foremost, amongst ultra-Orthodox men and Arab women, but also within other specific populations.”

Tzuk said “a change in discourse” and “a very big change in action” has brought about change in the Israeli labor market.

“Demographics has an impact,” Tzuk said, “And this is an opportunity for all of us – government, employers and the third sector – to take advantage of the government attention, activity and infrastructure being created to see what works, what doesn’t, and how to improve. Due to preconceived prejudices, employers are missing out on good, committed, creative and experienced employees.”

“The call for diversity in employment is not a philanthropic endeavor,” Tzuk said. “It can really contribute to the prosperity and success of a business, opening new audiences and markets, and promoting creative and different ways of thinking. We work to bridge the barriers of different populations in the labor market and operate a variety of vehicles to provide the tools and accessibility for employees lacking experience and background, and offer them the required professional training.”

Tziona Koenig-Yair, Equal Opportunity Commissioner at the Ministry of Economy, said an awareness campaign currently running on Israeli media is helping spread the message.

“Our first campaign, our call to employers not to merely discard resumes, conveys to employers the message, not to overlook the obvious,” Keonig-Yair said. “Stop. Consider from a different perspective. See diversity as an advantage.  The campaign is asking employers not to run on ‘automatic’. Moreover, we are available to employers, for guidance and advice, to help them think of equality, and to encourage diversity in the Israeli labor market.”

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