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(photo credit: Courtesy)
PRIME MINISTER Ehud Olmert met last week with Texas Governor Rick Perry who headed a delegation of Texas public officials and business people on a visit to Israel. Perry updated Olmert on planned special legislation to prevent any Texan investments in Iran. Texas has the 10th largest economy in the world and such a decision could influence change in Iran's nuclear program. Olmert lauded the governor's brave economic steps and added that economic sanctions would certainly influence the Iranian economy. The prime minister also expressed hope that continued and stepped-up sanctions would lead to a change in the Iranian position. Olmert also emphasized the free world's moral obligation to isolate Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who is openly calling for the elimination of another sovereign state: "Unfortunately, instead of preventing him from visiting world capitals, he is being received by heads of state," said Olmert. Aside from political issues, Olmert and Perry also discussed the development of bilateral commercial cooperation, especially in the biotechnology field, given Texas's large biotech sector. It was also decided to increase cooperation in research and development.
PERRY WAS not the only prominent Texan in Israel last week. Texas Secretary of State Paul Wilson met with members of the Business Club of the Israeli Friends of Tel Aviv University, and members of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. The meeting was arranged for the purpose of exploring potential economic cooperation between the State of Texas and Israeli companies. Texas, the second largest US state with a population of over 24 million people, launched a $300 million "emerging technologies fund" to attract high-tech companies - especially in the area of homeland security - to expand their businesses to Texas. Secretary of State Wilson is responsible for the fund. Among leading Israeli high-tech companies represented at the meeting were: Delek Energy, NASDAQ-traded Elbit and Magal. Representing Tel Aviv University was Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron, Vice President for Research and Development. Other TAU officials were also present. TAU President Prof. Zvi Galil expressed the university's pleasure at being able to host the secretary of state, and voiced the hope that the meeting would help to strengthen the ties between Texas and Israel in general, and Texas and Tel Aviv University in particular.
GOVERNOR OF the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer came to his position with the most impressive of credentials, but something that is not generally known about him is that he is one of only two students in the history of the London School of Economics to have received full marks. This item in Fischer's biography was disclosed last week by Leon Kempler, chairman of the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce, who introduced Fischer at a dinner held at Jerusalem's King David Hotel in honor of Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. Kempler also noted Fischer's role in transforming communist countries into capitalist economies. Downer is the longest serving foreign minister in the democratic world and three years ago became the longest serving foreign minister in Australia. The reason, Fischer said, that there had been 9-11 Israeli foreign ministers in that period was because some of them had served twice. He also noted that there had been three, or four, finance ministers during his two years as Governor of the Bank of Israel. Fischer spoke warmly of how Israel has benefited from Australia's foreign policy, and with respect to Australia's economy, said that there was no doubt that the Australian economy had performed superbly for the past 16 years. He also expressed appreciation for Australia's support with regard to Israel's application to join the OECD.
CASINO GAMBLING is still illegal in Israel, so the rule of thumb is that if you can't bring casinos to Israel, you take Israelis to the casinos. Indeed, charter flights of Israelis regularly travel to casinos in Rhodes and in Eastern Europe. When casinos were still legal in Turkey, Israelis flocked to them in droves. And, of course, there are some affluent Israelis who not only play in casinos, but own them. This trend is increasing. In recent weeks, Israeli business tycoons Yitzhak Tshuva and Nochi Dankner acquired a 34.5 acre site in Las Vegas through their respective enterprises Elad and IDB Development Corp. Currently occupied by the New Frontier Hotel, the site will be renamed The Plaza and will include a 3,500-room hotel, casino, apartment building and shops. The estimated cost for developing the project is somewhere between six to eight billion dollars. Hot on the heels of the Tshuva-Dankner deal is one by Africa Israel's Lev Leviev, who will also contribute to the Israeli presence on the Strip. Africa Israel Investments Ltd., acquired a 49 percent share in a site adjacent to the Hard Rock Caf . Together with its partners, Africa Israel will shell out $625m. for the property, which will be redeveloped to include a casino, ultra-modern shopping mall, convention center and several hotels. The Israeli presence in Las Vegas is not limited to gambling, but it is definitely related to hotels. Arad Textiles supplies its Centium towels to some 60,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas. The Centium towel, with its feeling of softness and depth, was specially designed for the luxury hotel market and has proved to be a big hit in the US.
WHILE ISRAELIS have been getting a foothold in Las Vegas, Sheldon Adelson, one of the leading lights of the Las Vegas casino industry, as well as that of Asia, and ranked sixth in the Forbes list of the world's billionaires, has been spending time in Israel with his sabra wife Miriam. Adelson has been trying for years to have casino gambling legalized in Israel - but without success. Former Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson, who had previously been tourism minister, was also interested in legalizing casino gambling in the hope that this would bring more tourists to Israel and would stop Israelis and tourists from crossing the border in Eilat to gamble in Taba. But his efforts were also in vain. Despite his frustrations with the Israeli legislature, Adelson has been an extraordinarily generous donor to projects and institutions in Israel. Over the past year, he and his wife, through the Adelson Family Charitable Foundation, donated $25m. to Yad Vashem and followed that up with a $25m. donation to Taglit-Birthright Israel, on top of an earlier gift of $5m., bringing their total contribution to Birthright to $30m. - and they've indicated that their contributions to Birthright will continue in the future. As a result of their generosity, some 25,000 Jewish students from many parts of the world will be touring Israel this summer to connect in some way with their Jewish heritage. The Adelsons not only give money to Taglit Birthright, but have a hands-on approach and during their current stay in Israel met at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv, with hundreds of students and signed the Taglit Birthright scrolls. The Adelsons, who own a penthouse apartment in Tel Aviv, are in Israel at this time for the launch of his new give-away publication Israel Hayom (Israel Today).
NO ONE was quite sure whether international businessman and philanthropist Sami Shamoun was joking or serious when he announced at the cornerstone ceremony for the new orphanage in Kiryat Sanz, Netanya that he intended to have an apartment within the building. Shamoun, who contributed $10m. to the new facility, said he wanted to be closer to the children. Shamoun who divides his time primarily between England and Israel, has contributed to many projects in Israel, and this is among the more recent.
HAREL FINANCES has appointed attorney Sarina Groushko as vice president for business development and human resources. Groushko's appointment is within the framework of new strategies introduced by Harel Finances CEO Shimon Alkabetz in advance of Israel's anticipated economic growth. Groushko, 43, married and the mother of four, comes to her new post with an impressive background in strategic business development and human resources managment.
COMPLETION OF Section 18 of the Trans Israel Highway was celebrated last week in the office of Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz with the participation of senior representatives of the Transportation Ministry, Cross Israel and Derech Eretz. Also present was John Beck, chairman of the Canadian Aecon company which, together with Derech Eretz, has developed the Trans Israel Highway and owns the concession to Section 18. Section 18 stretches from Eron to Ein Tut, and took two and a half years to complete, at a cost of $190m.
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