Some 20 percent of Israel’s 8 million people are Arabs. But they constitute only 3 percent of the country’s high-tech industry employees.
That’s according to Sami Saadi and Paz Hirschmann, co-CEOs of Tsofen, a joint Arab and Jewish nonprofit that promotes high-tech in the Israeli Arab community to encourage economic development and the creation of a shared society.
Saadi is an Arab; Hischmann is a Jew. They visited Washington this month as part of a U.S. tour to meet with funders, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
“Approximately 60 percent of our operating budget is fulfilled through philanthropic gifts and half of that comes from the Jewish federations and family foundations,” Hirschmann said.
In their meetings, the two Israelis said they told their listeners that since its founding in 2008, Tsofen has placed 2,000 engineers in high-tech jobs, established hundreds of mentoring relationships between Israeli Arab students and engineers, offered 50 schools and 250 students access to hackathons or other technology workshops in Arab communities, and nurtured human talent across Israeli Arab society through networking and knowledge transfer.
It has been nearly 10 years since the release of “Start-up Nation,” in which authors Dan Senor and Saul Singer declared, “Israel’s secret seems to lie in something more than just the talent of individuals.”
But Israel today has a shortage of high-tech workers. And opportunities in the innovation economy are limited for its Arab citizens.
“Israel will be a real start-up nation when all take part in it: Orthodox Jews, women and Arabs,” said Hirschmann.
Tsofen’s goal is to help fill what it calculates is a demand of 15,000 additional engineering jobs and raise Arab employment in the tech sector to 10 percent by 2025.
Hirschmaan and Saadi said about 30 percent of their nonprofit’s operations focus on promoting soft skills: mentorship, entrepreneurship and resume reviews.
Saadi said he envisions a “future of a strong and healthy Israel that depends on many things, but first and foremost a shared society where people are working in collaboration more so than just living in coexistence.”
They want to expand their work from Israel’s north to the Negev in the south. And their goal is for at least 20 percent of their participants to be women.
Their work has been recognized for its success, including receiving the 2015 Speaker of the Knesset “Quality of Life” prize.
In Hebrew, the word tsofen can mean programming code. Saadi said high-tech is also “a secret code of society between Arabs and Jews that can serve as a model of a more equal life together.”
Jason Langsner is a Washington-area writer.