Long sidelined, Arabs see increasing efforts to include them in Israel's tech sector

The Associated Press

File - In this file photo taken Dec. 16, 2010, Israeli project manager Gali Kahane sits in front of a computer in the office of Comply, an Israeli start-up that employs Palestinians, in Hod Hasharon, near Tel Aviv. Israel’s flourishing tech industry, where major global companies have offices and startups abound, has earned the country the nickname "Startup Nation." But estimates put the number of Arabs in the industry at some 1,600, a jump from 350 workers in 2008 but still only about 2 percent of all Israeli tech workers. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

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Aiman Saif, who is responsible for the economic development of minority groups in the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the government is luring tech companies to Arab towns with tax breaks and subsidies. It has also set aside funds for scholarships for Arab students enrolling in sciences and a government-backed investment fund has been created to support Arab entrepreneurs.

But more needs to be done to boost numbers, he said. "Integrating the Arab society is a national mission," said Saif. "We are in the right direction but we have a lot more to do."

Still, critics accuse the government of talking more than acting. Sami Saadi, a co-founder of Tzofen, which also aims to foster Arab participation in the tech sector, said that integrating more Arabs would not only help secure Israel's economy but also further equality between Arabs and Jews.

"The government at the end of the day will understand that it's a national interest, not just an interest of the Arab society," said Saadi. "It must be responsible for promoting this."

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