GLARING IN its absence from the list of participants in the "Negev Conference 2006 - Agents of Change" is the name of Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal, whose name has so frequently been in the news over the past year. Scheduled to address the conference, which opens today, Tuesday, are Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee Shimon Peres, Minister for Industry, Trade and Labor Eli Yishai and Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson, as well as senior representatives of various government and quasi-government agencies, and leading figures from the banking, railway, industrial, manufacturing, legal, academic, hi-tech and tourism sectors. It was commendable of the organizers to include Mohamed Alnabari, the Mayor of Hura, and Talal Al Krenawi, the Mayor of Rahat, among their colleagues Shmuel Rifai, the chairman of the Negev Regional Council and chairman of the directorate of the Negev Development Authority, Yaacov Terner, the Mayor of Beersheba; Amram Mitzna, the head of the Yeruham Local Council; Pini Badash, the head of the Omer Municipal Council; and Meir Cohen the Mayor of Dimona - but it is strange that the mayors of Sderot and Ofakim, as well as those of several other Negev communities are missing from the list. The four government ministers may mouth platitudes and half promises, but the mayors can talk about real problems and bring them to government attention. Too often events of this kind are hit and run affairs in which the minister shows up a few minutes before he or she is scheduled to speak, gives the address, sometimes stays around for three or four questions, and then leaves without hearing what the locals have to say. It may be symbolic that the conference is being held on the 230th anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America in the hope that the Negev will soon attain economic independence and that the communities which have for so long been described as development towns will become developed towns. AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE Day was celebrated early by the Israel America Chamber of Commerce, which on Thursday hosted a festive event at the Hapoalim Club in Tel Aviv with the participation of US Ambassador Richard Jones. The occasion was also used to bid farewell to Gus Felix, a member of the Executive Committee of the Chamber and chair of the Chamber's Forum of American Companies in Israel. Felix has completed his four-year term as CEO of Citigroup Israel and has been succeeded by Ralph Shaaya, who was also present at the meeting. Earlier last month, the Chamber hosted Yair Shiran Israel's incoming Economic Minister to New York and Noa Asher, the incoming economic attach to Chicago prior to their departure to the US. IT WAS obvious by the lack of metal detectors at Tel Aviv University that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was not going to attend the gala launch of the Beth Hatefutsoth fund-raising campaign for the renewal of The Museum of the Jewish Diaspora within its new framework as part of The Center for Jewish Peoplehood on the TAU campus. Representing Olmert was Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson. As he apologized for Olmert, who he said had very much wanted to attend but was unable due to political and security developments, Hirchson recalled that Beth Hatefutsoth, which he considered to be one of the most important of Jewish institutions, was on the brink of closure but was rescued by former prime minister Ariel Sharon's intervention. The Knesset subsequently passed a resolution in which Beth Hatefutsoth was legally established as the world center of the Jewish People. Around the same time that Sharon had come to the aid of Beth Hatefutsoth, Hirchson recalled, Russian millionaire, Leonid Nevzlin, who now lives in Israel and was recently elected chairman of Beth Hatefutsoth's International Board of Governors, accepted the financial challenge of revitalizing the institution. Through the Nadav Fund, which he operates with two partners, Nevzlin made a significant contribution to the renewal project. "Without his commitment," said Hirchson, "I doubt that we would be here tonight." The cost of the renewal project, the major part of which will be completed by 2008 but the final part by 2012, has been estimated at $34 million. Hirchson said that if one wanted to be realistic, the figure by 2012 would be closer to $40 million. Shlomo Lahat, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Beth Hatefutsoth, presented Hirchson with a book intended for Ehud and Aliza Olmert . The book is an illustrated genealogical study of their family backgrounds. Lahat urged Hirchson to return so that he could view all that Beth Hatefutsoth has to offer. "And you want me to come with money," quipped Hirchson. "No," replied the experienced Lahat. "Come with a budgetary allocation." "When I came into office," retorted Hirchson, "I learned that the Finance Minister deals with principles and the clerks deal with finances." Although neither Hirchson nor Science Culture and Sport Minister Ophir Pines-Paz made any declaration about funding, there was one sizable contribution made during the evening. Philanthropist Raya Jaglom, who sits on the boards of governors and executive boards of several organizations and institutions, rose from her seat and said that after Lahat ceased to be mayor of Tel Aviv, she did not believe he would take on any more communal responsibilities. He had been the best mayor the city had ever known, she said, and had done great things to enhance its cultural and educational opportunities. Because Beth Hatefutsoth was so close to her heart and doing such an admirable job in preserving Jewish history and Jewish identity, and because Lahat was at its helm, she wanted to donate NIS 100,000 in his honor, she said. Jaglom turned to some of the extremely affluent Israelis in the hall and said that it was time for Israel to stop depending on charity from abroad. There were enough wealthy Israelis to support local causes, she said, as she urged others to follow her example. ISRAEL'S ECONOMY is sufficiently stable to withstand some of the most difficult challenges including the escalation of the conflict with the Palestinians, Dr. Yossi Bachar, director-general of the Finance Ministry, told a meeting of the Federation of Bi-National Chambers of Commerce in Tel Aviv last week. Bachar emphasized the importance of continuing with the policy of a liberal economy. Federation chairman Amnon Dotan announced that two new chambers - Israel-Vietnam and Israel-EU - had joined the Federation, bringing the total number to 40. Dotan also anticipated that bi-national trade in 2006 would exceed the figure of 2005 which, excluding diamonds and security equipment, was in the range of $62 billion. THE BOARD of directors of Bank Hapoalim has approved the appointments of Yosef Yarom as chairman of Bank Massad and of Hannah Pri-Dan to succeed Yarom as head of the risk management division of Bank Hapoalim. Yarom, who has been with Bank Hapoalim for than 30 years, filling a number of important posts in Israel and abroad, has been a member of the bank's executive board since 1994. A graduate of the Institute for Jewish studies, he worked as a high school teacher in Israel and overseas before embarking on a career in banking. He subsequently earned degrees in social sciences and law. At one stage of his career, he was general manager of Continental Bank and its chief comptroller. In 2004, when Hapoalim decided to expand its risk management operations, Yarom launched the department for risk management and shaped its policy. Hannah Pri-Dan, 52 and married with two children, is an economics and mathematics graduate of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. She also has an MBA. She joined Bank Hapoalim in 1975 and is a member of the bank's executive board. Her area of expertise is in stocks, securities, financial assets and investments. She is a member of the board of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. Until taking over from Yarom, she was responsible for the bank's subsidiaries. Her duties in this regard will now be assumed by Yaacov Rosen who heads the bank's finance division. AFTER THREE-and-a-half years as senior deputy to the spokesman of the Finance Ministry, Mali Cohen is moving on. Cohen was recently appointed spokesperson for Israel Railways. While at the Finance Ministry she dealt with explaining economic policy, reforms and legislation related to them, transfer of pension funds, privatization of government companies, approval of state budgets and crises in local authorities. For two years prior to her work with the Finance Ministry, she served as spokesperson at the Ministry for Science, Culture and Sport. THE JUVENILE Diabetes Research Foundation has announced the appointment of Pnina Lewis, 51, as its director-general. For five years prior to her new appointment, Lewis served as director-general of the Kiryat Gat Development Fund. A graduate of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, she holds first and second degrees in chemistry. EL AL CEO Haim Romano has announced the approval by the company's board of directors for Rami Levy to serve as Vice President Commerce and Aviation Contacts alongside El Al chairman Prof. Israel Borovich. Levy, who is 53, married and the father of three, was until recently, the deputy marketing and trade manager for Tnuva. Before that he was deputy marketing and sales manager at Carmel Wineries prior to which he held a similar position with Intercosma, which markets international brands of cosmetics and toiletries. Levy has a law degree and an MBA. THE PRESIDIUM of the Israel Manufacturers Association has approved the appointment of General (Res.) Yehuda Segev, 55, as its next director-general. Segev, who is due to take up his post in August, will replace Yoram Blizovsky, who is retiring. Until recently, Segev served as director general of the Builders and Contractors Association. While still in the army, he served as head of the Manpower Division in the department of the Chief of General Staff.