Former Ambassador Shapiro’s Remarks at the Opening Session of the Rahat-AJEEC Conference, “Promoting Equal Opportunities in the Negev”

Thank you very much, Nawaf.
I want to recognize:

Minister Arye Maklouf Der’i,

Our host, the mayor of Rahat, Mr. Talal Al-Krenawi,

Ms. Sigal Moran, mayor of the Bnei Shimon Regional Council

Mayor Ruvik Danilovich, Mayor of Beersheba, capital of the Negev.

Kheir Elbaz and Ariel Dloomy, co-directors of AJEEC-NISPED

Mayors and local council leaders, honored guests

Good morning (in Hebrew and Arabic).

It’s a great honor for me to be here today and it’s a great honor for the U.S. Embassy to support this important conference.

In recent years, it seems that the Negev has experienced a boom and a forward momentum that are nearly unprecedented in terms of scope and quality. In the four years since I arrived in Israel I have seen how more and more people from the north and center of the country are moving to live in the Negev. Bedouin communities like Rahat and Hura are developing in terms of education, public buildings and in other ways. Government bodies, military units and private companies are moving to the Negev, creating jobs and opportunities that did not previously exist.

But beyond that, we see growing cooperation between different communities in the Negev in creating social and economic partnerships. For example, the new industrial zone “Idan Hanegev”, which I have visited previously, and is under joint Jewish and Bedouin ownership.

This industrial zone can and should inspire all of us. First, it entails economic cooperation among different residents of the Negev; and second, it promotes equality and more opportunities for development that benefit all of the Negev’s residents, including the Bedouin population.

More opportunities and more equal opportunities help to ensure diversity in society and in the business community. In a moment I will say more about how such diversity is vital for a robust society. That is why the subject of today’s conference, promoting equal opportunities in the Negev, is so important. I commend AJEEC, the Rahat Municipality, the Bnei Shimon regional council and all the other partners who have made this possible.

I am pleased that our support for this conference and our investments in partnerships with AJEEC-NISPED and other civil society organizations are helping Israelis build a strong economy, a stronger more inclusive society, a stronger Israel.

Our support for this conference came about through the initiative of a group of past participants of U.S. Embassy programs who are active in AJEEC. These alumni of U.S. State Department programs—who I met a few minutes ago—are part of a great network of Israelis that have taken part in study and exchange programs in the United States. Through these programs, we enable participants to share experiences with their American counterparts, so they can apply that knowledge in Israel in order to advance their communities. To my delight, that is exactly what the alumni who initiated this conference have done.

Just as we support this terrific conference, the U.S. Government supports other programs that promote growth while providing equal opportunities in the Negev.

For example, through our MEPI program we support the “Tnoofa” youth center in Kiryat Gat, which helps young people from disadvantaged communities, like the Ethiopian community and others, receive educational counseling, vocational training, and more. This provides them with more equal opportunities to integrate in various professions, despite the relative disadvantage in which they began.

Another program that we support through MEPI is AJEEC’s “Anchor Institutions in the Negev” project, through which large institutions in the Negev, like Ben Gurion University and Soroka Medical Center, procure products and services from local businesses in the Negev, with an emphasis on small and minority-owned businesses. This creates a more harmonious business environment that integrates different parts of society, empowers them and helps create a diverse society with more trust among its members.

Since its founding, the United States has seen great success in industry and academia, science, technology, literature and the arts, which would not have been possible without the contributions of persons from diverse backgrounds. When you give citizens equal opportunities to participate in the economy and in social and political life, they can flourish and succeed and contribute to the greater society.

The perception is also true of corporations and of large organizations. We now know beyond any doubt that partnering with and granting equal opportunities to all citizens are the key to achieving a strong and healthy society.

I know that many of you are already active in promoting equal opportunities in society and I call on everyone to act on this issue, which stands at the base of the United States and Israel’s shared values and our desire for peace and prosperity. I congratulate you for all you have accomplished so far and I look forward to supporting your efforts in the future.

Well done! Toda raba! Shukran katir! Shana tova!