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About 20 percent of Israeli citizens are Palestinian-Arabs. They vote. They hold office. And they also have faced decades of discrimination. A study commissioned by Israel's president found Palestinian-Arab citizens held less than 1 percent of the mid-level or senior management jobs at the country's leading companies. NPR's Nick Schifrin reports on an effort to change that.
NICK SCHIFRIN, BYLINE: The way 26-year-old Basel Egberiea (ph) describes it, not many people have managed to leave his small hometown in northern Israel. He's an Arab citizen of Israel who studied accounting. He tells me that most of his school peers either lacked the confidence to leave or were blocked by discrimination.
BASEL EGBERIEA: (Through interpreter) Arabs too have dreams, have ambitions, have professional ambitions. And it is a democratic state. And there should not be any blocks for people who want to advance.
SCHIFRIN: We're talking on the 15th floor of a Tel Aviv high-rise in the offices of the global accounting firm Deloitte. Egberiea was part of a new government program called Collective Impact that helps install Arab-Israelis into management.
EGBERIEA: (Through interpreter) I'm getting a lot of professional knowledge that I would not be able to acquire in other places. I also think the doors are open to me.
SCHIFRIN: Deloitte's doors weren't necessarily closed. But they were hard to walk through. Israeli standardized tests are written from the perspective of Jewish Israelis. So Arab results average lower. And Arab students don't get as much English education.
ILAN BIRNFELD: At the moment, at least, it is very difficult to find the right management profiles within the Israeli-Arab community.
SCHIFRIN: That's Deloitte's Israel chairman and CEO, Ilan Birnfeld. He says Deloitte has begun to distinguish between talented and experienced. The company selects hardworking, ambitious Arabs and gives them the training they haven't had the opportunity to receive.
BIRNFELD: They are incurring their managerial skills within their organization from the organization and by, you know, on-the-job training.
SCHIFRIN: Program organizers hope increasing corporate diversity can help lift up Israeli-Arab communities. And they hope, at least one company at a time, to improve Jewish-Arab relations.
BIRNFELD: This is the way to really build the trust. This is the way to really build the openness to each other. And from there, I think that the Israeli society will just benefit.
SCHIFRIN: That's the goal. But Professor Dalia Fadila says that Israeli society includes widespread discrimination against Arabs. And the problems run deeper than corporate diversity.
DALIA FADILA: Trying to bring more Arabs into management positions is wonderful. However, this is not the problem. This is only a result or a symptom of the problem. The real problem goes back into the educational system.
SCHIFRIN: Fadila is a professor of Arab-Israeli society at Interdisciplinary Center University in North Tel Aviv. She says decades of neglect within the Arab-Israeli education system has led to sobering statistics. Only 12 percent of Arab high-school students matriculate to Israeli universities.
FADILA: The budgeting is much lower in Arab schools than in Jewish schools. It's separate. And it's not equal at all.
SCHIFRIN: Fadila has consulted for Israel's president, Reuven Rivlin, whose office sponsors the Collective Impact program. She says improving Arab education is the first step to creating an Israeli society that doesn't yet exist where Arabs aren't discriminated against. And they believe they can succeed.
FADILA: That, based on your excellence, based on your skills, based on your achievement, you can get anywhere you want inside Israel.
SCHIFRIN: The program's administrators admit they're making small steps. Deloitte will increase the number of Arab-Israeli managers from about 15 to more than 30. New manager Basel Egberiea hopes that, one day, it won't be a news story that Deloitte had hired him. It would just be normal. Nick Schifrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv.
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