Nazareth, Israel — He’s just made billions selling the company that he started in his backyard to Warren Buffett, so you may think that it’s time for 86-year-old Stef Wertheimer to take it easy.
Instead, Wertheimer, one of Israel’s wealthiest citizens, is today putting most of his energy into the Arab town of Nazareth.
There, in the presence of Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, he has just opened a $22 million industrial park that is expected to generate 1,000 jobs.
The park, part of Wertheimer’s bigger dream of many such projects that will serve as a vehicle for promoting Jewish-Arab cooperation and national development, may sound like one more idealistic coexistence effort. But this is a project of the Arab mainstream, not just of coexistence activists. Wertheimer’s project manager is none other than Shawki Khatib chairman of the main umbrella group for Arab Israelis — the High Follow-up Committee, which was established in response to confrontations with the police and army in 1976 that left six Arabs dead.
Sitting in his Tel Aviv office, which has a stupendous view of the Mediterranean, Wertheimer could not be clearer about how he intends to deploy the huge pile of cash on which he now sits.
“I need money to build parks,” he told the Forward. “I will build more parks. That’s all I’m interested in.”
The neighboring and predominantly Jewish town of Nazareth Illit has several industrial areas, including the large Ziporit Industrial Park. But until now, there hasn’t been a single industrial park in an Arab locale in all of Israel.
Peres shares Wertheimer’s vision. “This is the best statement for coexistence between Jews and Arabs, it is truly significant, not just empty words,” he declared at the opening ceremony, held on April 23.
It’s easy to understand Wertheimer’s enthusiasm for the new park. It is a remarkable, ultra-modern building with art displays dominating the public spaces and more of the feel of a faculty center at a high-class university than of a manufacturing hub. It seems a world away from the crowded residential areas of Nazareth.
In a few weeks, when units have been customized to business tenants’ needs, there will be a steady flow of Arab and Jewish workers to and from Arab-owned companies like Alpha Omega, which makes neuroscience technology; international firms like the software giant Amdocs, and possibly, in the future, Jewish-owned firms, as well. Tax benefits and subsidies encourage companies to move here as Nazareth lies within a government-designated priority area for development.