Arab Society in the Wake of the Coronavirus: Policy Recommendations

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After three contentious election campaigns, Israel's new government has been sworn in. IDI's experts weigh-in with their recommendations on the most important issues on the agenda. Dr. Nasreen Hadad Haj-Yahya and Ayman Saif on the urgent challenges facing the 35th government to address the significant economic gaps that between Israel's Jewish and the Arab populations.

Illustration | Flash 90

The Government’s To Do List

Subsidies and Incentives

• For a defined period, provide subsidies to cover 75% of the salaries of low-wage workers in sectors that have been hit hard during this period, at least until the economy shows signs of recovery-- currently anticipated towards the summer of 2021

• Include vulnerable populations among those granted allowances, such as temporary and seasonal workers in agriculture and day laborers

• Provide unemployment benefits to 18–20-year-olds

• Provide incentives to encourage businesses to employ women working full-time from home

• Provide incentives for vocational retraining, tailored to the demands of the labor market of the future

• Provide incentives for companies and industrial zones to take on workers in large numbers

• Lower the eligibility criteria for small business owners to apply for financial aid.

• Encourage working from a distance so that the number of jobs open to populations in the periphery will grow significantly, particularly in computer programming, as in the Lotus model in Daliyat al-Karmel

Employment tracks

• Strengthen the vocational training system and promote paid apprenticeship programs in large companies for young people with a college or university degree

Support for small and medium-sized businesses

• Revoke the restrictions relating to asset seizures enacted before 2017 in the eligibility conditions for government-backed loans, and instead- base loan approvals on the financial history of the business over the last three years.

• Set up a system of loans for small and medium-sized businesses

• Reduce the requirements for loan securities, and increase the proportion of government securities for loans in a designated loan fund, from the current level of 15%- to 30%

Closing digital gaps

• Bring internet and cellular infrastructures in Arab localities up to national standards

• Expand science and technology studies in Arab schools, with an emphasis on fostering both technical and cognitive skills that provide the tools for problem-solving in digital environments

• Accelerate distance learning processes

• Ramp up the “Computer for Every Child” project

General recommendations in the wake of the management of the coronavirus crisis:

It is important to ensure representation of Arab citizens in decision-making forums. With the outbreak of the epidemic, a government coronavirus emergency committee was set up, coordinated by the National Security Council. However, this committee suffered from underrepresentation of Arabs, similar to the situation in many other government agencies and ministries, particularly in middle-management and senior positions. Representation of Arab citizens in decision-making forums is essential in emergencies, as it is in routine times.

• Promote Arab representation—particularly of Arab women- in planning, developing, and implementing policy, messaging, and ensuring public visibility

• Establish mechanisms for ongoing consultation with representatives and professional bodies in Arab society, foremost among them being the Council of Arab Mayors and the Emergency Committee for the Coronavirus Epidemic in Arab Society

• Halt the demolition of buildings and agricultural lands during the coronavirus crisis, along with passing legislation to regulate construction

Professional Training: An Alternative Model

In order to leverage the coronavirus crisis for the benefit of Israel’s economy and to upgrade the quality of employment among Arab Israelis, we propose that the government take the following steps:

• Map the demand for workers among the 20 largest hi-tech companies
• Create professional training programs based on market demand and on input from relevant companies
• Ensure flexibility in training content, and include internship as a major component of training programs
• Prioritize training programs that enhance the probability of graduates’ employment, and that are tailored to the educational, training and employment background of the participants
• Provide government subsidies of up to 70% of workers’ wages for a period of six months, conditional on : the recipient being on the margins of Israeli society and residing in Israel’s geographic periphery
• Where needed, provide subsidies for mentors’ wages as well, at a level determined for each profession
• Create a segmented database of jobseekers organized by relevant classifications and accessible to all stakeholders
• Create estimates for the potential number of Arab workers who are suitable for high-quality professional training, based on existing administrative data and/or surveys

In addition, we recommend providing incentives to employers offering their employees a hybrid employment model—that is, working from home or from a distance for several days a week. This will help overcome geographical obstacles, reduce traffic, and protect the environment.

Many companies seek to hire workers from abroad. The coronavirus crisis has created an opportunity to bring many jobs back to Israel and to integrate into the workforce those population groups that until now have struggled in their attempts to do so. This is a model from which everyone stands to benefit: jobseekers, the state, and employers, who can enjoy a clearer and more familiar regulatory environment than currently exists in other countries.