As Expo 2020 Dubai comes to a close at the end of March, the United Arab Emirates will host a soccer match between teams from the Abraham Accords’ signatory countries, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides announced on Wednesday.
Players from Israel, Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates will face off in Dubai in the inaugural “Abraham Accords Games,” an effort being spearheaded by Nides and the UAE’s ambassador to Israel, Mohamed Al Khaja. The event will also feature a “dinner celebration” with chefs from each country.
“I fundamentally believe that travel, tourism [and] culture is the way to cement, in people’s psyche, the importance of these Abraham Accords,” Nides told reporters in a virtual press conference on Wednesday.
Since arriving in Israel in December, Nides has emerged as one of the most vocal proponents of the Abraham Accords — the 2020 pact that normalized ties between Israel, the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain and Sudan — within President Joe Biden’s administration.
The event will take place on March 29, and the delegations from each country will also visit the others’ booths at the Expo. The culture ministers from each of the four countries will be in attendance. After the event, they will sign a “cultural cooperation declaration” with the goal of “fomenting and just continuing to advance the idea that cultural cooperation is the key to success to the Abraham Accords,” said Nides.
With the event taking place in an international hub like Dubai, Nides said he hopes the event will show other countries the benefit of joining the Abraham Accords.
“It just shows what happens when there’s cooperation,” he explained. “Obviously, the more people understand each other, the more ability there is to work together, not only on playing football or eating food, but how do we do economic ties? How do we do energy ties? How do we do security ties? How do we do cooperation?”
Sudan, which was a signatory to the Abraham Accords in 2020 but has been absent from most of the resulting cooperation, will not participate in the Abraham Accords Games. Sudan “is going through some complications with leadership,” said Nides, referring to a military coup that rocked the country last year, but “our hope is that we’ll all be doing all these events together.”
The Abraham Accords Games is the first major event in a cross-cultural approach Nides is taking to advancing the Abraham Accords and showing their potential to other countries in the region. “I’m hoping that Israel plans to do something this summer for a month of different activities in the cultures of all the countries,” Nides said, explaining his vision for a “whole month of concerts and plays and arts. There’s just a massive amount of stuff that people don’t know about each one of these countries.”
Nides urged policymakers and practitioners in the Abraham Accords countries to “get in the mindset of kids” by working with “influencers, pop stars [and] cultural icons,” which he said he has a plan to do.
Margalit is the first Israeli businessman to meet with Bahrain’s finance minister since signing of the Abraham Accords
Israeli entrepreneur and investor Erel Margalit met last week with Bahrain’s Minister of Finance and National Economy H. E. Shaikh Salman bin Khalifa Al Khalifa to explore cooperation in the country’s fintech sector.
With an eye to Riyadh, Israeli entrepreneur and investor Erel Margalit spent four days in Bahrain last week exploring the Gulf state’s advances and aspirations in the world of financial technology, or fintech, as well as assessing the possibility of opening one of his innovation centers in the country. He believes that such developments could form a tech bridge to Bahrain’s neighbor, Saudi Arabia, which Israel has long been hoping will be the next country to join the Abraham Accords normalization agreements.
“I was surprised by the level of entrepreneurship in Bahrain; those regulating the country are using ideas and concepts like a startup,” Margalit, founder and executive chairman of Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) – one of Israel’s oldest and most established venture capital companies – told Jewish Insider in an exclusive interview on Saturday.
“They are able and modest and ready to hear new ideas,” he said of Bahraini officials and counterparts that he met with. “They want to hear about what we are doing in Israel and there is a real eagerness to cooperate with us.”
Margalit, who served as a member of Knesset for the Labor party from 2015-2017, was invited by the Bahraini government and the country’s Economic Development Board. He was also a special guest of the country’s finance and national economy minister, H. E. Shaikh Salman bin Khalifa Al Khalifa.
The first Israeli businessman to meet with the minister since the signing of the Abraham Accords in September 2020, Margalit also held discussions with economic-business leaders, including the heads of Bahrain’s major banks – the National Bank of Bahrain and ila Bank – various investment funds, communications and energy companies, and heads of leading universities, as well as leaders in the innovation industry and dozens of technology and social entrepreneurs.
Much of the discussions, Margalit told JI, focused on how to develop the country’s fintech industry, which draws innovators and investors from across the Arab world. It’s a fine fit for many Israeli companies already working in this now-growing tech field, he added.
“Fintech is about allowing financial services to reach people who don’t always have access to them,” the entrepreneur explained. “Bringing financial services to small businesses in different countries is touching, and it is a path that builds goodwill and removes barriers.”
But boosting the fintech industry in Bahrain, which is strategically located in the Persian Gulf just off the coast of Saudi Arabia, could also be a highly beneficial step for Israel, where there is hope that the Saudis may be the next Arab nation to normalize ties with the Jewish state.
“Bahrain is a bridge to Saudi Arabia, and we all realize that this might be Israel’s next big step in the Arab world,” Margalit said. “For Israel, Bahrain can serve as a gateway to a much larger chapter that will make a big difference to Israel’s economy and its diplomacy.”
Margalit said that Al Khalifa took a special interest in his Startup City model, which connects prominent tech and business players with social and cultural entrepreneurs. Margalit first developed the concept about 15 years ago in Jerusalem and has since created four more hubs, each focused on a specific aspect of the innovation and technology ecosystem, including cyber, food tech and health tech.
“They heard about what we are doing in New York [Margalit opened a hub in Soho in June 2021], Haifa, the Galilee, Jerusalem and Beersheba and invited us to have an open conversation about how Israel and Bahrain can cooperate,” Margalit said, adding he was “honored to answer the invitation of the Bahraini government to open a new economic chapter between the two countries based on high-tech and entrepreneurship.”
Israel’s ambassador to Bahrain, Eitan Na’eh, who accompanied Margalit at the meetings, called the visit a “milestone in the relations between the business sectors of the two countries.”
“Erel’s Startup City model, which was presented to senior Bahraini officials, complements our joint vision of building a tech corridor between the two countries,” Na’eh said. “Israel sees Bahrain as the gateway to the Gulf.”
In a simply decorated classroom on the far side of a dusty schoolyard deep inside Marrakesh’s bustling Medina, or old town, about a dozen Deaf schoolchildren watched with amusement last week as a small group of well-educated — and usually articulate — young hearing Israelis and Moroccans attempted to communicate with them.
Using very basic sign language, or at least those signs shared by the Hebrew and Moroccan versions of the visual-manual modality language, the children seemed not to know or care that they were a part of something very remarkable, even historic.
As the governments of Israel and Morocco work to normalize relations on a diplomatic level following a December 2020 agreement to establish full and open ties, grassroots movements and civil society organizations are working to build and strengthen the connection between the two countries, already deeply linked via long-standing cultural roots.
The group visiting the École de la Princesse Lalla Amina school and the class for the non-hearing, which is operated by an independent local charity, were participants in the Leaders of Tomorrow Summit and one of four teams competing in a low-tech hackathon challenge to create sustainable and cultural people-to-people projects that aim to build bridges between their countries.
“Our main goal is to leave no one behind,” Oumaima Mhijir, 29, a participant from Morocco, later told hackathon judges in a five-minute pitch about Project Ismaani (translated from Moroccan as “listen to me”). “We want to create a fellowship for good that aims to enhance cultural understanding between our two people.”
Elad Kakon, 36, an Israeli on the same team, told Jewish Insider that the team’s decision to focus on the non-hearing community came about after Mhijir, who helped established, through a local nonprofit, Marrakesh’s Sign Language Café, appealed to the Israeli participants for assistance with the charity that runs the school for the Deaf. When Kakon revealed to the group that his Moroccan-born father, who grew up in Casablanca, was also non-hearing, the group hit on the idea of building a bridge between the two tiny and often sidelined communities.
“It’s a subject that’s very close to my heart,” said Kakon, who patched in his father from Israel via FaceTime so he could converse with the schoolchildren in Moroccan sign language. “I think there’s a lot Israel’s non-hearing community can contribute to the community in Morocco,” he added after the visit to the school.
Both Kakon and Mhijir described to JI that they decided to participate in the four-day conference in Marrakesh because they wanted to learn more about the other country and connect with real people.
“It’s amazing what is happening here, and I think we’ve formed some true friendships,” Kakon, who lives near Ashdod and runs educational projects in Israeli schools, said of his encounters at the conference.
Mhijir, director of development for an NGO that works with children at risk, was pulled into the initiative by a colleague who volunteers with the Mimouna Association, a cultural non-profit created by young Muslim students to promote and preserve Jewish heritage in Morocco.
“I don’t know much about Jewish culture or Judaism as a religion, and I know even less about the Israeli people,” she told JI. “But I was aware of the Moroccan-Jewish relationship, I knew that Jews and Muslims were once neighbors here, that they lived together in many Moroccan cities, and I also always knew that there were neighborhoods dedicated to the Jews.”
She said she was also cognizant of negative perceptions in Morocco of Jews and particularly of Israel because of its conflict with the Palestinians but maintained that “no religion, no human being, no one from any culture should be treated or perceived that way.”
Organized by the Tel Aviv-based NGO ISRAEL-is, which educates and trains young Israelis to conduct meaningful encounters with their international peers, in collaboration with Mimouna Association, the summit brought together some 60 highly educated young Israelis and Moroccans, a mix of students and professionals.
The Israeli group was comprised of individuals selected by the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation, Kulna, an NGO that promotes Moroccan Jewish heritage and culture in Israel, and some independent participants, while the 30 Moroccan participants were mostly volunteers involved with Mimouna’s activities.
Mimouna’s president, El Mehdi Boura, who established the organization in 2007, said there were some negative views of Jews, and of Israel, in Morocco but the normalization agreement, which is linked to the broader Abraham Accords with an additional three Arab countries, has served to bolster Mimouna’s profile and has made working on Jewish-related projects in the country much easier.
“What we are doing in Morocco is not about the Abraham Accords, but it has definitely facilitated things for us,” he said, adding, “There are one million Jews of Moroccan descent in Israel and around the world and they are our brothers.”
“Even though they have been separated from us for many years, they have kept their Moroccan-ness, people here know that, and we are really proud of Moroccan Israelis,” Boura continued. “This is what makes the connection between us and Israel very special.”
Boura said he was aware of some negative views of Jews and of Israel in Morocco but, he added, “It’s all about education, and many people here never had the chance to meet Jews. We just need to show them that it’s OK.”
And, whenever people challenge him about his work with the Jewish community, Boura told JI that he sends them to talk with their grandparents – “99 percent of the time they come back to me and have changed their perception about Jews,” he said.
Of the meet-up with Israelis last week, Boura said the collaboration with ISRAEL-is was so important.
“It was the first time that young people from Morocco and young people from Israel are coming together on the civil society level,” he said. “We have seen official agreements being signed, which is really great, but in the long run, for sustainability, it is the relation between people that will make this work.”
Eyal Biram, co-founder and CEO of ISRAEL-is, told JI that he created the Leaders of Tomorrow Summit following the Abraham Accords’ signing to harness the new relationships that were forming.
“After 25 years where there wasn’t any kind of peace agreement between Israel and Arab countries, we realized that we needed to find a way to celebrate this historic achievement, but we had zero connections on the other side,” Biram, 30, said, describing how his team set to work sending messages on social media to influencers in the UAE.
“Two days later, we held a Zoom meeting,” he continued. “We understood then that something really special was happening, that there was an Arab country opening its heart to peace and the people there were looking to connect with young people in Israel.”
Since then, ISRAEL-is has forged partnerships with groups of young Bahrainis and Emirates – two of the other Arab countries that recently normalized ties with Israel – and now Moroccans.
“I really hope that we can build similar platforms, not only in Morocco, the Emirates and Bahrain, but also one day with Saudi Arabia and other places in the Middle East,” said Biram, who founded ISRAEL-is in 2017 to train a new generation of informal ambassadors for Israel. “In order to make real peace, you need real action.”
For most of the conference participants, it was their first time meeting someone from the other country, and the discussions were fun but intense, focusing on the place of the Jewish community in Moroccan history, religious and cultural similarities and differences, as well as some politics.
Run mostly in English, with a smattering of Hebrew, Arabic and French, the central activity was developing the ideas from the hackathon, which will be presented to Israeli President Isaac Herzog in May when the Moroccan delegation visits Israel. Projects focused on reciprocal tourism, arts and culture, as well as Project Ismaani for the non-hearing communities, which turned out to be the judge’s favorite.
At the school for the Deaf, where the mixed tongues of English, French, Hebrew, Moroccan, Arabic were inconsequential, volunteer teacher Hafsa Ait Sidi also made clear that the religious and national differences made little difference too.
“When the non-hearing community in one country gets to meet non-hearing people from another country, we do not care about politics or religion, we care about human beings and about the interactions,” she told the hackathon team.
She said she would be delighted to participate in their project and was looking forward to connecting with Deaf and hard-of-hearing Israelis.
This story is part of a series on the Israel-Moroccan relationship developing following the signing of the normalization agreement in December 2020. Eglash was a guest of the ISRAEL-is at the Leaders of Tomorrow Summit in Marrakesh.
Seeking to spur dialogue between young Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders in the Middle East and build on the emerging ties forged by the recent Abraham Accords, the Washington-based Abraham Accords Peace Institute (AAPI) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Tel Aviv-based NGO ISRAEL-is during a special ceremony last weekend in Marrakesh, Morocco.
Taking place on the sidelines of the Leaders of Tomorrow Summit, a forum that brought together young Israeli and Moroccan leaders, the two organizations said the new arrangement would bolster such interactions and help the parties develop sustainable innovation projects, build additional cultural exchanges and promote influencer delegations between Israel and Morocco, as well as two other Arab countries — the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
The UAE and Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords with Israel on Sept. 15, 2020, with Morocco normalizing ties with the Jewish state a few months later. Since then, diplomatic and economic relations have grown steadily.
Asher Fredman, Israel director of AAPI, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the implementation and expansion of the Abraham Accords, who was present at the weekend seminar, told Jewish Insider that the new cooperation would serve to “strengthen culture, tourism and people-to-people ties.”
“It is an investment in the next generation of leaders in all the countries,” he said, adding that the ultimate goal was to “expand the circle of the Abraham Accords” by showing how peace can create shared opportunities and strengthen societies for the future.
Eyal Biram, co-founder and CEO of ISRAEL-is, which educates and trains young Israelis to conduct meaningful encounters with their international peers, said the cooperation with AAPI was “deeply important.”
“The seeds of this effort were planted by the United States government,” he said. “Every development could not have happened without the support of the U.S., and we are looking forward to creating more wonderful opportunities and building a shared future.”
The two organizations said they will work together to bring regional delegations to Israel to meet with both Jews and Arabs in diverse fields such as politics, business and culture, and to bring Israeli young leaders and prominent figures to the Arab world.
“The key to ensuring that the Abraham Accords continue to flourish for generations is through deepening people-to-people cooperation,” AAPI’s president and executive director, Robert Greenway, said in a statement.
“The decades of political disconnect between Israel and the countries of the Middle East have led too often to misunderstandings, hostility and conflict,” he said. “By working with ISRAEL-is on bringing together young leaders from across the region, we can ensure that the Abraham Accords are not just agreements on paper, but an ongoing paradigm for peace, cooperation and prosperity.”
The Leaders of Tomorrow Summit included some 60 people from Israel and Morocco. Participants engaged in a two-day hackathon to brainstorm ideas and initiatives that could be developed between the two countries.
This story is part of a series on the emerging relationship between Israel-Moroccan following the signing of the normalization agreement in October 2020. Eglash was a guest of ISRAEL-is at the Leaders of Tomorrow Summit in Marrakesh.
Increasing security collaboration between the two Abraham Accords' countries on display during last weekend's Munich Security Conference
Munich Security Conference
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz (center) and Bahraini Undersecretary for Political Affairs of the Foreign Ministry Dr. Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmed Al Khalifa (left) during a session of the 2022 Munich Security Conference.
Cooperation between Bahrain and Israel stepped up a level this weekend with the prominent participation of both countries in the Munich Security Conference.
Undersecretary for Political Affairs of the Foreign Ministry Dr. Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmed Al Khalifa represented Bahrain in the session titled “Abrahamic Agreements and Peace Options,” and shed light on a strong alliance between two countries in the Middle East that have common interests aimed at creating a more secure region in the face of the rise of extremism and terrorism that has threatened both countries and has destabilised others nations of the Middle East.
“If this security cooperation between Bahrain and Israel would mean providing more stability and security, so be it. If it would mean saving the lives of innocent civilians, so be it. That is why during a number of visits of the head of the Mossad to Bahrain, it was publicly announced in the Bahrain News Agency. Probably, the first time it was announced was in September 2020 and in May 2021 that yes the head of the Mossad was received by his counterpart in Bahrain. So we do believe that security cooperation, intelligence cooperation is part of our ongoing partnership between Bahrain and Israel,” Abdullah said.
The meeting in Munich followed two historical visits made by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defence Minister Benny Gantz within 10 days to Bahrain and Abdullah’s words make it clear that Bahrain would exert utmost effort into any political or diplomatic initiative and co-operation that could lead to saving the lives of innocent civilians.
The Abraham Accords that marked a transitional point in the Middle East’s history and future and consolidated strategic cooperation between two countries that believe in peace as a consistent approach to confronting destructive ideas and ideologies that perpetuate hatred and promote terrorism — this has been the main focus of discussion and cooperation between the two states.
Both suffer from threats by terrorist entities and countries harbouring terrorists. Iran has been the focal point of all threats, directly and indirectly.
The participation of Anwar Mohammad Gargash, diplomatic adviser to His Highness the president of the United Arab Emirates, in the Munich Security Conference also gave weight to the discussions as the UAE continues — through genuine diplomatic efforts — to achieve stability and security in the region; the UAE has always been known for such efforts and stands as a great example for resolving several regional and international issues through its diplomatic effort, experience and in-depth analysis of the different players in the region.
History books will document the Abraham Accords that brought the UAE, Bahrain and Israel together, thanks to the brave decisions taken by their leaders in a part of the world where the some countries countries funding terrorism have created a turbulent region.
Munich brought together diplomatic and defense leaders who addressed a number of challenges facing the region, foremost among them terrorism based on extremist ideology, and the rejection of coexistence and diversity, which represents another challenge as it is linked to the spread of sectarianism and negative ideas. Antisemitism and Islamophobia have been the unfortunate results of hatred and demonizing Israel in many parts of the Muslim world.
Sheikh Abdullah al Khalifa focused on the challenge of armed proxy militias and the threat to maritime security, in addition to targeting oil and vital facilities in the countries of the region through drones and guided missiles to destabilize the region. This comes at a time that the Houthis, funded by Iran, continue to target Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, causing the death of innocent civilians. Munich came during the same week that Australia classified Hamas as a terrorist entity, months after the U.K. had done so, and after Germany classified the political wing of Hezbollah as terrorists.
The Munich conference has come to a close but the mission to eliminate the enemies of peace has just begun.
When Rafael Schwartz moved to Kuwait three years ago for work, he was hoping he’d be able to make quick trips to the fledgling Jewish community in the nearby United Arab Emirates every few weeks if he needed Jewish company or kosher food. But when COVID-19 struck two years ago, he found himself unable to travel.
“My intention was to leave once a month and go to Dubai, where there was a small Jewish community, but the pandemic changed all that and I never left Kuwait,” Schwartz, who is originally from the U.K., recently told The Circuit over Zoom.
Once the virus hit, traveling in and out of Kuwait, which sits at the tip of the Persian Gulf, bordering Iraq and Saudi Arabia, became difficult — and sometimes impossible, when the country closed its borders — and Schwartz soon found himself trying to keep up with his Jewish traditions in a country that does not officially recognize Israel and is known for its institutionalized, often pervasive, antisemitism. An engineer by trade, Schwartz told JI that while he has lived and worked in multiple countries with small or nonexistent Jewish residents, he still found himself yearning for Jewish community.
Then, in February 2021, something like a miracle happened. Spurred by the fall 2020 signing of the Abraham Accords, a set of normalization agreements between Israel and four Muslim-majority countries, the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities (AGJC) was born, connecting Jews in six Persian Gulf countries and providing a Jewish lifeline for people like Schwartz.
In that short time, the AGJC has become the backbone of Jewish life in the Gulf, primarily in the UAE and Bahrain — two of the signatories to the Abraham Accords — and has connected the sprinkling of Jews living and working in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The association estimates there are roughly 1,200 Jews residing in the Gulf, not including a further 1,000 serving there as part of the U.S. military. Among its activities, the organization has played a hand in the growing number of Jewish life-cycle events, helping to organize the region’s first bar mitzvah in 16 years and its first Jewish wedding in 52 years. It has also launched a Jewish dating website, a Beth Din of Arabia (Jewish religious court), and is currently in the process of creating an Arabian Kosher Certification Agency, which will set standards for kashrut throughout all six Gulf countries. The AGJC also offers weekly in-person and virtual programming, including a Friday pre-Shabbat Zoom and events around the holidays.
“There was a big Pesach turnout,” said Schwartz, who logged into the Zoom event from Kuwait. “One of the people who also joined was a Jewish lady from Kuwait City who has lived here for 40 years. She was curious about where to find matzah and the rabbi connected us so that we could meet.”
For indigenous Gulf Jews, such as Ebrahim Daoud Nonoo, AGJC’s president and the chairman of the board of trustees of the House of Ten Commandments, the Jewish community in Bahrain, the growing Jewish life is a welcome change.
“It is lovely,” Nonoo, whose family has lived in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, for more than 100 years, told JI. “The community is a very ancient one but until now we had to send our kids abroad to study, and the problem with that is that they don’t come back. So now we have a community that is growing older and older and there are no children.”
“We are a tiny community and the good thing we are seeing now is that we have a workable way to make Jewish life flourish in the country,” he continued. “The AGJC is a fantastic support for all the communities in the Gulf, allowing us to enjoy Jewish life not just from the point of view of kosher food or religious books, but we also have the input of a rabbi and we have used him for bar mitzvahs and weddings.”
Nonoo, who served as a member of Bahrain’s Shura Council (Upper House of Parliament) from 2001 to 2006, added, “We are in a much better place than before because we no longer need to go to Europe or the United States to find Jewish support, we can now get it from Dubai or we have it here in Bahrain.”
The more the Jewish community grows, said Nonoo, it will attract Jews from all over the world to live and work comfortably in the Gulf. And, he added, the presence of a Jewish community in countries where they were absent or invisible for so many decades is essential for outreach to local Muslim populations.
“It is really sad to see a Jewish community die, and we are bringing them back to life,” he said, adding that the synagogue often invites local Muslims to participate in services and events to learn about Judaism.
“When I arrived here a year ago, Jewish life in the Gulf was almost unknown,” Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie, the AGJC’s rabbi, said in an interview with JI. “It was barren land, but I could see that we could create an orchard and connect Jewish communities and individuals in all of the countries.”
Abadie, who was born in Lebanon and speaks fluent Arabic, said that the UAE and Bahrain are now “fully open” and embracing their Jewish communities, and he is hopeful that “Saudi Arabia will follow suit sooner rather than later, then Oman, Qatar, Kuwait — which will probably be the last the one to open, although there are some rumblings that people want to open up to Jews and Israel.”
Abadie said that the AGJC had connected with individual American Jewish soldiers stationed in Kuwait who have lived there for decades and are married to locals, as well as a few descendants of Jews who now live as Muslims.
“It feels really good watching this and, in a way, it makes you feel vindicated that finally Arab countries have come to realize that either persecuting or expelling their Jews was a historical mistake and now they want to correct that and welcome the Jews back,” he said. “I hope and pray that we will see even more events for the Jewish community in these countries and that more Jews will either go to settle there or come out of the closet, so to speak.”
Not far from Ben Gurion Airport, in a spacious and airy hangar, sits Israel’s latest collection of highly sophisticated Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Large and small, short distance and longer range — even the first Israeli drone, circa 1980, strung from the ceiling — the space has everything one might expect to inspire, create and develop these innovative flying machines. However, among the workstations, spare parts and a plethora of highly trained engineers, there’s one thing conspicuously missing: women.
The space is part of a sprawling campus belonging to Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), a state-owned company that develops all manner of civilian and military aerial systems it sells to more than 100 countries. It is a leader in the field both in Israel and around the world, however, among its 15,000 engineers only around a third are female.
The shortage of female engineers at IAI mirrors Israel’s broader technology and innovation sector today where women make up roughly a third of employees. And IAI is among the leaders in the industry looking for ways to address this gender imbalance.
“We want to raise the percentage of women in the engineering positions in the high-tech world in the future, not only for the IAI but for all of Israel,” Gili May, IAI’s chief relationship officer, who is responsible for the company’s social responsibility outreach, told Jewish Insider. “I think IAI has an obligation to fight for the right of women to take their place in the field of engineering. Of course, we hope that those graduating from our program will come back to us in the future, but that does not really matter as long as some of the girls from this program end up becoming engineers.”
The company’s Engineers of the Future program, launched six years ago, offers 100 teenage girls each year the chance to take a peek inside the industry, showing them the kind of jobs available and even connecting them with female mentors already working in the field who can guide them through their hectic adolescent years.
“I was always interested in science, and I always wanted to head in that direction but doing this program really helped to develop my dreams, it showed me what was possible and what I might be able to accomplish,” Eliya Harari, who participated in the program in 2017, told JI.
Now 21, Harari is completing a degree in computer science at Bar-Ilan University. She said that while she was interested in computers in high school, she did not receive too much encouragement or support from her family, her teachers or her peers.
“When you are young, there are so many things that you want to do and it is distracting,” Harari said. “But when I joined the [IAI] program, I met other girls who were like me, and that really made it fun and gave me some support.”
A recent study by Power in Diversity, a joint venture of more than 60 Israeli venture capital firms and more than 170 Israeli startups aimed at promoting diversity and inclusion, found that women account for only 33% of all industry employees. Dror Bin, CEO of Israel’s Innovation Authority, told JI in an interview last month that boosting the number of women in the sector was one of the authority’s main priorities, also in part to address an overall shortage of manpower in the country’s high-tech sphere.
“The manpower shortage in Israel’s high-tech [sector] is chronic,” said Maty Zwaig, CEO of Scale-Up Velocity, a branch of Start-Up Nation Central, which seeks to advance Israel’s high-tech industry and provide solutions to its human capital challenges.
Zwaig said that along the traditional route to careers in Israeli high-tech there were many points where young women could and should be encouraged and engaged much more, which would ultimately increase their participation in the industry.
“The pipeline to the high-tech industry in Israel begins with STEM, then there is the army and then university,” she described, using the acronym for the curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering and math. “We have a clear understanding of points where things go wrong, where we lose girls in the system.”
According to the Council for Higher Education in Israel, while the number of students overall studying STEM has increased over the past decade, still only 29% of students in subjects such as computer sciences, electrical engineering and electronics are female,Haaretz reported last month. The report highlighted that the gender gap begins in junior high school, where boys make up most of the students taking such subjects and continues on through the “pipeline” that Zwaig describes.
The number of girls or young women involved in science and technology dwindles even further when Israelis reach the army, said Zwaig, a former lieutenant colonel in the IDF, where she headed R&D units in the Intelligence Corps, citing her organization’s own research.
Only around 27% of army programmers are women and only 17% of cyber units are female, she said, adding that by the time many young women reach university, degrees focused on technological or science – subjects that almost guarantee a future in engineering or some aspect of high-tech and innovation – feel out of reach.
At IAI, which has been working to advance female engineers in its own ranks, the four-month training program for junior high school girls not only promotes STEM, it also works to develop bonds with those already working in the field.
Dikla Avraham, one of the few female engineers at IAI and a mentor for the program (not Harari’s mentor), said that such outreach was important in introducing “young women to the world of engineering and science,” which they might be reluctant to join because it such a male-dominated industry.
The program, she said, gave young women confidence and the mentoring showed that it is possible to also become wives and mothers, even while working in a highly competitive and very demanding industry.
May, who is also IAI’s spokesman, said that encouraging teenage girls to stick with scientific subjects throughout high school, the army and into university when there were so many life distractions came down to is “branding.”
“Of course, you need the basic capabilities in order to succeed in one of these subjects, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist in order to matriculate in physics,” he pointed out. “We want to emphasize that studying these subjects is cool and that being an engineer is cool too.”
Scale-Up Velocity’s Zwaig is hopeful too, saying that even beyond the traditional life path laid out for Israelis, “it is never too late for women to go back and learn these topics” and find employment in the high-tech field.
Among the programs run by Scale-Up Velocity, is a retraining course for ultra-Orthodox women who are the main breadwinners in their community and are becoming increasingly present in Israel’s high-tech hub.
“If women want to do something that pays more, then they can find a way in,” Zwaig concluded. “The main problem is that women, at a certain stage, tell themselves this field is not for them, but there are so many positions they can do, it’s just a matter of self-perception.”
Israeli President Isaac Herzog is set to make the country’s first ever presidential visit to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, his office announced on Tuesday.
The president, together with First Lady Michal Herzog, will visit Abu Dhabi and Dubai at the invitation of UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, with whom he will meet in addition to Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed; Vice President, Prime Minister, Defense Minister and ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum; and representatives of the Jewish community.
During the two-day trip, Herzog will also open Israel’s national day celebrations at Dubai Expo 2020 on Monday, which will include an official ceremony at the Al Wasl Dome, located at the heart of the Expo, and a public event at the Israeli pavilion.
“We have the privilege of making history by making the first visit of an Israeli president to the United Arab Emirates,” Herzog said on Tuesday. “This important visit comes as the Israeli and Emirati nations are busy laying the foundations of a new shared future.”
“I believe that our bold new partnership will transform the Middle East and inspire the whole region,” he added. “We are a peace-loving nation, and together we will expand the historic circle of peace of the Abraham Accords and create a better, more tolerant, and safer world for our children. I thank Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan for this gracious invitation to deepen our nations’ bonds of friendship.”
Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made the first official visit of an Israeli premier to the Gulf nation.
The historic visits of both leaders come over a year after the UAE established formal diplomatic ties with Israel. Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco all formalized ties with Israel in 2020.