Billionaire Bets on Arabs of Nazareth To Advance Dream for Israel

For Stef Wertheimer, Peace Path Runs Through Industrial Park

Picture of Opportunity: Israeli tycoon Stef Wertheimer expects the $22 million he has sunk into this shiny industrial park in the predominantly Arab town of Nazareth to pay dividends — in more ways than one.
ofer blanc
Picture of Opportunity: Israeli tycoon Stef Wertheimer expects the $22 million he has sunk into this shiny industrial park in the predominantly Arab town of Nazareth to pay dividends — in more ways than one.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published June 23, 2013, issue of June 28, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

Still, not everyone is convinced that the project is poised for success. Only around 40% of the space is currently rented, and Nazareth resident Amal Ayoub, thought to be the first Arab woman to head a startup in Israel, said that she is unsure how much this will increase.

According to Ayoub, the Arab sector lacks homegrown businesses and the skills to generate them. Furthermore, she said, the government is not taking an initiative to change any of this. The park “will be empty unless the government brings industry to the Arab sector,” she said.

But Nazareth’s mayor, Ramez Jaraisi, who attended the opening voiced enthusiasm about the project. If it goes as he hopes, the park will generate employment and municipal taxes for his city.

Wertheimer has spent the past six decades making tools. His company, Iscar, is a metalworking giant. But in early May, Wertheimer agreed that Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. would acquire the remaining 20% of Iscar for $2.05 billion, having bought 80% back in 2006 for $4 billion. Now, despite his age, he discusses the sale of Iscar with the excitement and single-mindedness of a teenager who has just earned the money to purchase a coveted concert ticket.

“I deal with building the country,” he said, insisting that he is not just another one of the country’s tycoons. “[If] I happen to make money with it, then fine.”

Wertheimer’s path to what he hopes is this pivotal movement has been a circuitous one. In his interview with the Forward, he recalled his foray into politics in 1977, representing the centrist Democratic Movement for Change and then the Shinui party, and admitted, “I don’t think I succeeded so much.” In 1981 he left the Knesset and set about his vision to effect change through industrial parks. He calls this a “capitalistic kibbutz system” to nurture industry.

Wertheimer established six Israeli parks before developing Nazareth, all of them outside the country’s central urban regions and in places where they brought together Jews and Arabs. He dreamed of setting up Israeli-Palestinian parks and parks in neighboring Arab countries, but political factors didn’t allow it. He eventually settled on a park in Turkey. The parks currently break even but don’t make a profit — and he’s satisfied with this.

Wertheimer is convinced that if good employment opportunities are in place, support among Arabs for radicalism will wane, with people “too tired” after a hard day’s work to even think about aggression. Moreover, if these opportunities require interaction with Jews, he believes, positive relationships will be forged and hatred banished.

“The Galilee is a quiet place because people have to deliver on time; they don’t have time to quarrel,” he said, adding, “I believe that anybody who has to export, and who believes in skills, gets away from fighting about history.”

Beyond this busy-people-won’t-fight belief there is an underlying ideological complexity.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.