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.
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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.
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Wertheimer strongly believes in the argument of early Zionists such as A.D. Gordon that Jews in the Diaspora were excluded by repressive regulations from creative labor, and that their ingathering in a Jewish national home should remedy this. The twist is that while the early Zionists thought the remedy should come through agriculture, Wertheimer says it will come through industry, which he described as the “way back from the exile.”

For Wertheimer a thriving economy is not enough if it isn’t producing goods. “Industry is important, but everyone thinks money is important,” he complained. Without the appropriate balance, “it’s only back to the old system of thinking as a survivor and an underdog.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vision of economic peace isn’t the same, because he “speaks only about money.” A peace economy, Wertheimer said, requires productive skills.

Even high-tech, the apple of most Israelis’ eyes and a fixture of his industrial parks, doesn’t escape Wertheimer’s critique. “High-tech is marginal,” he said, calling it “dangerous” and then correcting himself by changing this to “complicated” — accompanied by a dismissive shrug.

Among other things, he said, high-tech has the worrying effect of causing Israelis to leave the country, a trend he views very seriously.

Wertheimer, who arrived in British-ruled Palestine in 1937 as a refugee from Nazi Germany, sees Israel as a country of refugees that struggles to find common denominators. It is a “nation but not a people,” he said, and needs a new goal to bind the population — one that will unite the Jewish populations from various backgrounds, and in which Arab citizens can be full partners.

“It can only be industry,” he said. “We don’t have another goal. You want more lawyers? It’s not going to help you; you don’t have enough thieves.”

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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