Business Scene

For years fashion companies around the world yielded to the demands of animal rights activists and refrained from using fur in their collections. Until now.

FOR SEVERAL years fashion companies around the world yielded to the demands of animal rights activists and refrained from using fur in their collections. But then the furor died down as new technologies helped to develop increasingly authentic-looking faux furs, some of which were so good that it was hard to distinguish between synthetics and the real thing. But looking real is not the same as being real. And so, over the last year or two fashion houses have begun to sneak fox and rabbit trims into their fall/winter collections. Some have gone in for even more luxurious furs such as mink and sable. Israelis have followed the rest of the world in this regard, and thus the new Castro fall/winter 2005/2006 collection includes fox and rabbit trims. This did not sit well with local animal rights groups, who not only staged protest demonstrations outside the company's flagship store in Tel Aviv, but also collected more than 17,000 signatures on a petition calling for fashion houses to stop abusing animals and to refrain from using genuine furs. The company's co-directors Etty and Gabi Rotter had no choice but to cave in. They have given an undertaking to use fake furs in future, but so far have been reluctant to remove existing (offensive) merchandise from their stores. DURING THE first two weeks of September, every Hebrew daily was running stories about Uri Shinar, the legendary president of Keshet, who suddenly found himself on the outside looking in. One of the most influential figures in Israel's television industry, Shinar lost out in a power struggle between himself and Keshet CEO Avi Nir. Then he made the mistake of publicly bad-mouthing not only Nir but the Keshet board of directors whose chairman and principal shareholder, Mozi Wertheim, who had long been Shinar's patron, was unable to save him from himself. The upshot was that the Keshet board of directors gave Shinar his marching orders. The upheaval in the industry generated tens of thousands of words in print media stories. But like all major news stories, the Shinar saga quickly became history as a new scandal, or what initially appeared to be a scandal, unfolded. Mody Friedman, who had served as Channel 10 CEO, and who two years ago was fired by the channel's board of directors, was rehired. There would be nothing wrong with such a turn of events, but for the fact that in the interim, Friedman became a member of the board of Channel 2 franchisee Reshet, and was instrumental in formulating the mission statement that enabled Reshet to be selected as one of two franchisees with Keshet, to win the tender guaranteeing it broadcasting rights on Channel 2 for the next decade. Reshet's board of directors was far from happy when media reports listed Friedman as a frontline runner for the Channel 10 position vacated by Nir Lampert, and stated categorically that for Friedman to accept the job was unethical, given his inside knowledge of Reshet's future plans. This did not deter Friedman, who last week signed a contract to once again take on the mantle of CEO at Channel 10. That story has also become old news. THE PRICES of etrogim rise to astronomical heights from one Succot to the next, but this year the cost of lulavim is expected to soar even higher. The cost factor will affect not only the most refined of lulavim devoid of all imperfection that traditionally cost an arm and a leg. All lulavim will be much more expensive than in previous years due to a clamp-down by the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture, which has come to the conclusion that it is harmful to palm trees to strip them of their fronds. Most lulavim sold in Israel come from El-Arish in Sinai. This source may cease to be available. Local lulavim come from the Jordan and Beit She'an valleys, but there are insufficient local quantities to satisfy demand. National Religious Party MK Shaul Yahalom alerted Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz to the urgency of the problem and asked them to find a solution. Katz said Monday that a special delegation will leave for Spain Tuesday to investigate the option of importing Spanish lulavim to Israel, while others are looking into bringing the palm fronds from Jordan and Nitzana. BANK LEUMI has appointed Antoine Bordelais as general manager for its private banking division in England. Bordelais will also be in charge of Bank Leumi Investments and will sit on the bank's board of management. Bordelais previously worked for Capital Partners Europe, whose private banking unit he managed for 18 years. IPC JERUSALEM Ltd. has entered into an agreement with the Regency Jerusalem Hotel Group (that owns the former Hyatt Hotel on Mount Scopus) to purchase the landmark site and development rights of the former Palace Hotel that for many years served as the premises of the Ministry for Industry and Trade. The deal includes the adjacent site that previously housed the Taxation Museum. IPC Jerusalem Ltd. is controlled by the Paul Reichman family of Toronto, and is an affiliate of various International Property Corporation entities such as the Canary Wharf project in London and the Class A Office Tower in Mexico City. The Regency Group, through its general manager Jacob Rubin and architect Ian Bader, obtained approval for a conceptual design that includes the construction of 15,000 square meters of prestige residential condominiums, plus an adjacent 28,000 sq.m. 220-room five-star hotel. The design includes the preservation of the impressive, early 20th-century facade of the Palace Hotel as well as other important elements. Visitors to the Industry and Trade Ministry often marveled at the magnificent staircase in the lobby. IPC will now take over the development and will work in close cooperation with the Jerusalem Municipality and other relevant authorities for the successful development and restoration of this landmark site. ISRAELIS WOULD welcome at least one more scheduled flight per week from Ben-Gurion Airport to New York. A survey conducted on behalf of Israir by Hagal Hehadash (The New Wave) indicates that 67 prercent of the public is in favor of creating an additional regular air link between the two destinations. The survey, conducted among 500 respondents representing a broad cross-section of society, revealed that 53 percent of the public believe that giving the green light to an additional regular round-trip flight route would contribute to competition among airlines, and would increase the flow of visitors between Israel and the US. The final decision on the additional flight will be that of Tourism Minister Avraham Hirchson, who is campaigning for massive tourism investments in the Jewish, Druse and Beduin villages of the Golan Heights. ISRAEL'S ECONOMIC future is more secure when Israel takes risks for peace. This was the message conveyed by outgoing US Ambassador Dan Kurtzer, who wound up his tour of duty last Thursday. Kurtzer, who was the guest of the Israel Export Institute, noted the extent to which Israel's economy and acceptance in the world have developed since the signing of the Oslo accords. An example was the handshake between Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when both attended the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York last week. As for trade relations between Israel and the US, Kurtzer noted that the balance of trade is in Israel's favor. Exports from Israel to the US by far exceed imports from the US. THERE'S ALWAYS a rotten apple in the barrel. In Israel's diamond industry where deals have been sealed traditionally with a handshake and the proclamation of mazal uvracha (luck and blessing), the occasional rotten apple who has deviated from the track of trust has been dealt with inside the industry, with minimal or no outside interference. But the turbulence of recent events within the industry has prompted Diamond Exchange President Avi Paz to bring in the boys in blue. As far as anyone is aware, this is the first time that a president of the Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange has involved the police in the effort to root out negative elements in the industry. Paz felt compelled to do so before the matter got out of hand and impacted on Israel's diamond exports. Diamond transactions worldwide are conducted on trust, and Israel, whose polished diamond exports are well in excess of $1 billion per year, cannot afford to have her reputation tarnished. THE GENERAL meeting of Perrigo shareholders will determine whether Mori Arkin can continue as vice chairman of the company that last year merged with Agis, the company in which Arkin had the controlling interest. Agis, which was the second largest pharmaceutical company in Israel after Teva, entered into an $818 million merger with US generic pharmaceutical company Perrigo, whose performance on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange has not been anywhere near as impressive as that of Agis. Under the terms of the merger, Arkin was supposed to continue as vice chairman till 2007. He also had the right to bring another director onto the board. That right has since been rescinded. In a letter to shareholders, Perrigo did not specify the reasons for the change but stated that the vote on Arkin's status was with his consent. Arkin is due to be appointed chairman of Bezeq's board of directors, once the acquisition by the the Apax-Saban consortium is completed.