Archive for October 2008

Israel’s trade with Muslim countries

October 31, 2008

Detractors of Israel often seek to punish their enemy by demanding a trade boycott with Jerusalem. 2008 has seen several such calls from EU, Norwegians and UK Parliamentarians, to name but a few.

Here’s the catch. If such calls were to be heeded, they would hurt some of the poorer Arab and Muslim countries.

  • On Monday 27th October, 160 Israeli and Jordanian businessmen participated in the fifth annual conference of the Israel-Jordan Chamber of Commerce. Those in attendance Mr. Omar El-Atoum, Economic Officer of the embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Israel. Israeli-Jordanian trade currently stands at over 300 million dollars. (Remember – in 1994, before the peace treaty, the figure was effectively zero). Jordanian exports to Israeli reached 54.2 million dollars, representing a 42% increase over the same period (Mainly chemical industrial products and agricultural produce). For an economy of Jordan’s size, that is a significant amount of revenue. 
  • Also this week, there was final approval to establish a Palestinian – Israel Chamber of Commerce. The Peres Ceter for Peace and the UK’s Portland Trust have been prime movers here. This must be seen as a primary step to promote deeper understanding and cooperation, which will match the heights of trade between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom.
  • On Wednesday, Israel’s ambulance service, MDA, signed what amounts to a joint-venture agreement with Indonesia’s Muhammadiyah organization. Cooperation between MDA and the Indonesian rescue and emergency organization began approximately one year ago, with the arrival of a delegation of Indonesian health and community organization officials for an MDA course in Israel. 

And the list goes on. It is worth listening to the words of some of the senior partners of Salens, an international legal outfit located in 19 countries. The company recently sponsored an event at the Israel – Britain Chamber of Commerce. They believe that the way out of the global recession will be found through emerging economies.

Clearly, Israel’s strong economy has an important part to play in this game. It is essential that its ability is used to the full and for the benefit of all.

The newlook feminine Israeli political scene

October 30, 2008

For many, the typical Israeli female politician is represented in charactures of Golda Meir. And yet is is nearly 35 years since she left the job as Prime Minister.

It is not that Israel has a new brand of ladies in power. Impressively, Israeli society has developed very considerably since the days of Meir. Just as there is no man who represents all of Israel, so too the ladies have moved on and up.

Take Dalia Itzhik. She is currently the Speaker of the Kenesset. Now in her mid 50s, she grew up with 7 other siblings, and her mum could neither read nor write. She was recently voted by Newsweek as one of the 11 most influential women in the world.

Mona Alahbanin is the first female candidate to stand for the council elections of the Bedouin city of Rahat. Located on the northern edge of the Negev desert, the vote takes place on 11th November. Interestingly, throughout Israel, there will be a total of 33 women standing for the position of head of their respective councils – an increase of 35% over 5 years.

And, of course, Tzipi LIvni, is head of the ruling Kadima party, and is hoping to lead it to victory in the general elction in early February 2009.

So what’s the big deal? This week the BBC published a series of interviews with Islamic feminists. To claim that their Israeli counterparts have nothing to fight for would be inaccurate. However, the ladies in question would learn a lot from their colleagues in Israel if they would put away their old-hat political divisions and talk to them. Many Arab societies would benefit from such a new and refreshing dialogue with Israel.

Investment opportunities in Israel

October 29, 2008

Israeli stocks and shares have been buffeted as in most other countries. The shekel has suffered a 15% devaluation against the dollar, but has increased in value against most other major currencies. So, where to put your money?

Yesterday, I raised an interesting solution with a senior local financier. Our survey led us to believe that most investment possibilities today are either risky or bear little interest or both. However, if you are seeking a long-term bet, there is an alternative.

Israel start ups have seen great success over the past decade. HP, Boston Scientific, Microsoft have all made significant purchases of small dynamos from Tel Aviv and Herzylia. And the Israeli brain is still churning out new, exciting technologies, pointing to healthy revenue streams in the future.

For example, I have been working closely with CEPCO. Based in Hod Hasharon, they have developed a software, which is embedded on to a smart card with a USB application. This allows the card to collect, manage and export in a secure manner up to 32 GB of info – text, video, Xray and more. 

The first application of this platform has been directed to the medical care market. Citizens will own and possess in their pocket all their medical records, a dream for health funds until now.

What makes CEPCO interesting to an investor is not just that it has completed its r&d. An influential senior civil servant working intimately with German government health funds has welcomed the technology, opening up the CEPCO to a multi-million Euro market. Long-term funding will thus be secured, along with a partnership from the NAV, a German doctor’s association.

Dr Gunter Pollanz, the founder and chairman of CEPCO, told me that all that was missing was an immediate injection of Euro 300,000. This will create a subsiduary in Germany and a small software team for customization.

CEPCO is probably typical of many other companies in Israel, carrying on despite the tsunami sweeping world finacial markets. Savvy investors could do worse than look at such possibilites, especially while the safe blue chip altenatives like banks and insurance firms struggle to return back to base.

The hidden children of Israel

October 27, 2008

Yesterday, I met Avinoam Ben-Yitzhak, who is the Executive Director of “Yeladim

Yeladim, which is Hebrew for Children, is an established NPO, offering new opportunities for the 8,000 Israeli kids in external care – anything from extra tuition to language development to presents for the holidays.

Avinoam and I discussed a  number of avenues to develop revenue on behalf of the charity. As the conversation evolved a number of sad elements began to seep through.

First, Israel as a nation, whether you be Jew, Christian or Moslem, prides itself on resources and care given to children. But here are 8,000 under 18 year olds, of all different ethnic backgrounds, often shoved far away from mainstream society. At the end of the day, this is no shining example to others.

And think of the realtive numbers. 8,000. Way too high and very disappointing. That is almost the size of the town, where I live.

This stat is not the whole story. The authorities receive approx 500 calls of distress every month. That works out at 15 a day. I did not ask, but I assumed that not every story is supported with an adequate response.

It would be easy to blame the parents. But some families just cannot cope for financial or health reasons. I believe that our anger should be directed to those, who appear to treat this as another issue to be shoved out of sight. These youngsters are an important part of our future, the future we work so hard to build with our own families and friends.

The meeting lasted close to two hours, way over schedule for me. I left departing with an uneasy feeling. Despite the worsening economic times approaching, Israel (nor other countries for that matter) cannot afford to ignore these special kids.

Palestinian Human Rights – alternative perspectives

October 26, 2008

The Free Gaza Movement is scheduled to send a second boat to Gaza containing containing minimal medical resources and several well known international personalities. To what level will this further the issue of human rights in the Palestinian territories?

1) The Palestinian-based Independent Commission for Human Rights noted in its September report that conditions had seriously declined in the territories:

  • 38 citizens lost their lives needlessly, including 6 in acts of revenge. Details are provided of the incidents.
  • Torture – both in Gaza and in the West Bank – continues by local security services, and in breach of the Penal Code.
  • Lawful demonstration is difficult….and so the list goes on. 

2) Gilad Schalit, an Israeli corporal kidnapped by Hamas, has yet to receive a single Red Cross visit in over 800 days of captivity. This is in stark contrast to each and every one of the very many Palestinians incarcerated in Israeli prisons.

3) Tunnel smuggling continues, as reported by several elements of the western media. There is little protection for the under-age children building the tracks. There is heavy emphasis of devoting resources to the imports of drugs and armaments.

It is to be hoped that the “boat people” will highlight these stories when they docked. The reality will probably be otherwise. Is this Gaza movement sincerely interested in a true peace for the Middle East or a one-sided sectarian solution?

A “knight” in Israel

October 24, 2008

I was born and bred in London. I love my English tea. And I thoroughly enjoy living in Israel.

So when I heard that Israel’s President, Shimmy Peres, is off to have to tea with her majesty, Lizzie to you and I, – well, I had to smile. It turns out that he is to be awarded an honoury knighthood by ma’am next month.

Peres remains a controversial figure in Israel, but he represents the country well overseas. The ceremony is a thumbs up to Israel, celebrating its 60th year of independence.

Ironically, despite contrary upbringings, the monarch and the President share a lot in common. They are way past the 80 years old mark yet both still lead full public roles. They are possibly the two most travelled and well known leaders on the world stage. Behind the scenes, they have secured significant and continuous orders for each country’s respective defence contractors. They have an ability and the influence to get things done without fuss or noise.

Peres has a full itinerary; meeting politicians, speaking at Westminster, a trip to Oxford university. If he has a moment on his return, maybe he can come over to my humble abode and we can chat about the trip over some cucumber sandwiches……and the it will finally be the time for her majesty to visit Israel and show her shoulders here.

What Israelis are doing about their economy

October 23, 2008

Figures released yesterday indicate that Israel’s economy will grow by 4.5% in 2008 (5.4% in 2007). And despite the “r” word – recession – increasingly mentioned by international figures, Israel is not showing signs of dipping into negative growth for 2009.

Israel has its forecasters of doom. And Israel’s 30% growth over 6 or so years has been linked in many ways to inward foreign investment and exports, which will both slow in 2009.

For the moment, there is much anecdotal evidence that the crunch has yet to come. A venture capital fund, Genesis, has raised US$100m for a new round of investment. I am aware of at least 2 Israeli start ups that intend to secure external investment in the next few weeks, and I hope to report on those stories in due course.

4 major employers, including Coca Cola (Israel) and Osem, have announced publicly that they have no plans for lay offs.

I am personally involved in an exciting new conference, aimed to introduce key Israeli figures in export sales, marcom and biz dev to new elements in marketing techniques. Delegates from some of Israel’s key high tech giants, including Sandisk, Comverse and ECTel, will be present at this central business event in Jerusalem.

Slow down or recession, the best way to tackle them is to generate new activity. That is what citizens are acting on. It is time for the government to follow.