I heard the words “but it is impossible here” from a Muslim woman, an angry graduate student, an Ethiopian job placement counselor and an Orthodox Jew, each in different meetings in the span of six days. My trip to Israel a few weeks ago revealed resistance, persistence and hope among the diverse groups with whom I spoke.
As a guest of the US State Department and the American Embassy in Israel I was invited to speak to corporate executives, NGO leaders, government officials in the Prime Minister’s office, religious leaders and educators about diversity and inclusion. In a state where their lives and their livelihood depend on their ability to find real solutions to the complex issues of diversity, I did not need to spend time on the “business case” for diversity. They all wanted to know the “how to’s.”
At the EEOC conference I shared the platform with the Chair of the Board of Directors of Strauss Group (one of the largest multinational Israeli-based businesses), the CEO of Google Israel, The Minister of Industry Trade and Labor, and the HR Manager- Intel Israel. In addition to addressing the workplace challenges and successes of women, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, religious minorities and other under- represented groups, every speaker addressed the urgent need to find real solutions to the challenges of Israel’s diverse population. Some explained why it is morally the right thing to do, while most stated in a very matter of fact way that the success of Israel as a nation depends on it.
As I spoke to groups in Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel Aviv, I was heartened by the willingness of people to speak candidly, the warm hospitality and the eagerness with which most wanted to learn from the mistakes and best practices of US organizations as they journey toward inclusion and equity.
In the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict life goes on much like it does in any typical American city. Life goes on while subtle and overt discrimination takes place, regardless of the law. Women are progressing in the work world but not as fast as they should; people with disabilities are discounted when it comes to seeing their abilities; it is presumed (incorrectly) that ultra-Orthodox Jews- men and women—would rather rely on government assistance then work; Ethiopians regardless of real skills tend to occupy the lower level jobs. In addition to the conflict over territory, what complicates the inclusion solution further is that the current system supports schools segregated based on religion, most neighborhoods tend to be segregated by ethnicity and religion, and elected officials hold their positions based on the religious sectors they represent rather than non-secular ideologies.
In the midst of circumstances that on the surface appear insurmountable, hope is alive. In the midst of impossibilities, possibilities exist. So when a few individuals said to me, “It (a solution of inclusion) is impossible here,” I simply said, “In my lifetime I never imagined that I would see the Berlin Wall come down; in my lifetime I never imagined there would be no Soviet Union; in my lifetime I never imagined there would be a whole month devoted to African American history; in my lifetime I never imagined I would witness the inauguration of an American president who is Black.” I know now that we must all dare to imagine a better world where individuals with all their differences will come together to learn ways to understand each other and thus include each other in building a monumental tossed salad of success and opportunity where people contribute BECAUSE of their difference, not in spite of their difference.