(photo credit: REUTERS)
Despite rocky political relations between Israel and Turkey, a delegation from that country’s jewelry industry has come to Tel Aviv for International Diamond Week, seeking to forge ties with the Jewish state’s world-renowned diamond industry.
While Israel’s diamond exchange is the largest in the world, and its security and technology are crucial elements in the modern diamond trade, Turkey, which has a strong industry in jewelry, is looking to develop its diamond cutting and polishing sectors.
“We can’t be part of the diamond industry without Israel. All around the world you have Israeli people doing this business for 80 years, from New York to Hong Kong, so we need to exchange the know-how,” said Sarp Tarhanaci, vice chairman of the Istanbul Chamber of Jewelry.
The visit comes at a nadir in Israeli-Turkish relations, amid vociferous and harsh rhetoric between their leaders.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a cozy relationship with Hamas and has used inflammatory language in criticizing Israel. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended a Paris march to commemorate the victims of the Charlie Hebdo and kosher grocery store attacks, Erdogan said the Israeli leader had no place being there because he had “massacred” children and women in Gaza.
“How can you see this individual, who carries out state terrorism by massacring 2,500 people in Gaza waving his hand,” Erdogan said.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called Erdogan an “anti-Semitic, neighborhood bully,” while Netanyahu said Turkey had a hypocritical stance on terrorism.
Asked if the political turmoil between the governments was of concern, Tarhanaci replied: “In our industry we don’t have any politics. The politics is between governments.”
Jewelry, he added, has no religion.
Shmuel Schnitzer, president of Israel Diamond Exchange, expressed satisfaction over the visit.
“Until now we didn’t have very much of a relationship with buyers in Turkey, so we’re happy you came,” he told the delegation.
Turkey is one of the biggest jewelry manufacturing countries in the world, according to Tarhanaci, with 30,000 outlets, factories and workshops.
The industry has a labor force of some 300,000. Its foray into diamonds comes on the heels of a government decision to drop a 20-percent duty on diamonds that made the trade prohibitively expensive.
Schnitzer also said Turkey’s strong ties to the Arab world could serve as a bridge for selling Israeli diamonds in those markets.
While Israel used to focus more on cutting and polishing rough diamonds, much of that work now takes place in India. Of the five banks financing the industry in Israel, all are Israeli except one, which is from India.
On that front, the Israeli Diamond Exchange is reaching out to the Dutch bank ABN Ambro, hoping to help increase financing options for the trade. According to Schnitzer, Israel has only some $1.5 billion in financing available for the industry, despite the fact that it exported some $9.3b worth of diamonds in 2014.
Israel is also seeking a greater supply of rough diamonds, and to that end it signed a memorandum of understanding this week with Russia’s Alrosa. The mining group is the largest supplier of rough diamonds, accounting for about a third of the worldwide supply.