On a recent trip to Israel, US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro met with the heads of several Israeli Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) who seek to promote equality in the workplace and economic empowerment to minorities.
These NGOs, many of which provide hi-tech training programs or teach English in minority communities, are all partners with the US embassy and receive a portion of their budgets via the Embassy.
One of these NGOs is Tsofen, meaning “code” in Hebrew. Tsofen’s goal is to bring the Israeli-Arab sector into the hi-tech world, especially in the north of the country, and to help Israeli-Arabs better integrate into Israeli society by building bridges between the two sectors through jobs in the hi-tech industry.
While Tsofen is headquartered in Nazareth, they have opened up hi-tech accelerators, programs, and clusters throughout the Galilee and Arab Triangle area, and have even begun projects in the Kafr Qassim area.
Sami Saadi is one of the CEOs of Tsofen. After graduating from university, Saadi discovered that there weren’t a lot of jobs in the north in general, or in the Arab sector in particular—something he sought to change.
After doing market research, he saw that one of the best ways to develop economically was through hi-tech.
Therefore, he and partner Paz Hirschmann decided to start the Tsofen program, both to train Israeli-Arabs in hi-tech, and to bring STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics —EG) jobs to the sector.
“This program gives hope to Israeli-Arabs who get degrees in computer science or other STEM subjects that they will be able to find a job after graduating,” Saadi said.
Hirschmann added that “we want to have a paradigm shift in hi-tech. We want to give Jews a chance to come work in Israeli-Arab hi-tech companies. There is a lot of untapped potential in the Israeli-Arab market which we want to tap into.”
And it seems to be flourishing. When Tsofen was founded in 2008, there were only 40 hi-tech engineers in Nazareth. Today, that number is over 600 in Nazareth alone. This increase in hi-tech workers has also led several Israeli and international companies to open up branches in a Nazarene hi-tech park, companies which include Amdocs, Galil Software, and Alpha Omega amongst others.
The organization is now trying to do the same thing in Kafr Qassim, located next to Rosh Ha’ayin.
“We want to replicate our success in Nazareth in Kafr Qassim as well,” Hirschmann said. “We've started a hi-tech accelerator, and are trying to establish hi-tech business clusters to help the industry grow.”
“We provide assistance with everything,” Saadi added. “We help support everything from Israeli-Arab students who want to study in fields relating to hi-tech, to helping Israeli-Arabs set up their own hi-tech companies, to helping hi-tech companies move to Israeli-Arab towns.”
Tsofen has been so successful that even Israeli governmental bodies are starting to take notice. The Office of the Chief Scientist of Israel – which operates under the Ministry of Economy, and has many hi-tech partnership programs such as MATIMOP – contributes up to 20 percent of the organization’s budget. The ministry clearly sees the importance of helping to facilitate the normalization of the relations between the Jewish and Israeli-Arab sectors of Israeli society.
With funding from both the US embassy, the Ministry of Economy, and other private donors, and with the success it has already achieved and is achieving in bringing hi-tech into the Israeli-Arab sector, Tsofen is quickly becoming a successful model of co-existence and integration into Israeli society.