Business Scene

Israel's tourist industry is in a Catch 22 situation, Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog claimed when addressing a meeting of the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association.

ISRAEL'S TOURIST industry is in a Catch 22 situation, Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog claimed when addressing a meeting of the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association. Israel could attract a lot more tourists, he said, if it could change the perceptions people abroad have of the country. However, to create a different image takes a lot of money and the Ministry of Tourism simply doesn't have the budget to pay for the new branding. Surveys indicate that most people think of Israel in terms of a war zone and, therefore, a dangerous place to visit, he said. "They see it as a concrete fortress of barbed wire full of zealots." Those who do come quickly change their perceptions, he said, but the problem is getting them to come. The Tourism Ministry is currently courting Christian pastors in the hope that they will bring their flocks to Israel, and is simultaneously working towards the implementation of an open skies policy and an increase in charter flights. The Ministry is also encouraging the Arab and Druse communities to develop boutique hotels and tzimmers. The war last summer had a negative impact on tourism - the projected number of tourists based on pre-war trends had been 2.7 million, but in the final analysis the figure reached was 1.9 million. Herzog was optimistic that there would be 2 million tourists in 2007 - but Israel was aiming for this figure more than 20 years ago, and hasn't made much progress. LOCAL PUBLIC relations guru Ran Rahav, who has been the spokesman for Partner Communications from day one, has decided after nine years to step back and give himself a short break from the cell phone branch of the communications industry before taking over the account of Partner rival Cellcom. Rahav has written a letter of resignation to recently appointed Partner-Orange CEO David Avner to notify him of his decision and to wish Partner well in all of its future endeavors. In the letter, Rahav lists a string of investors in and directors of the company and states that he would like to see all their dreams realized. Rahav, like most of the other leaders in the public relations and advertising industry, is being increasingly confronted with conflicts of interests as companies that he represents diversify and take over other companies. In Rahav's case, he is also the spokesman for IDB, which holds the controlling interest in Cellcom. On the other hand, he is also the spokesman for Shari Arison who holds the controlling interest in Bank Hapoalim. He was for many years the spokesman for Gideon Oberson, but he is also the spokesman for Lev Leviev and Africa Israel. Thus when the Africa Israel Group acquired Gottex, Rahav stepped back from the Oberson account, though at the time Leviev told him that he could keep it if he wanted. In the interim, Oberson, in addition to designing for his own label, began designing for Gottex. The word in the industry is that what prompted Rahav to leave Partner was the resignation of Amikam Cohen, Partner's founding CEO. Rahav, who develops very strong personal ties with the heads of the companies that his firm represents, had an excellent relationship with Cellcom CEO Amos Shapira when the latter was CEO of El Al, and Rahav was his spokesman. Rahav will take a three months cooling off period before representing Cellcom. BANK HAPOALIM has announced a series of new appointments. Ronen Stein has been named manager of the Jerusalem district succeeding Eli Izdorfer who has been promoted to Tel Aviv district manager, while Naomi Cyngler-Confino has been appointed manager of the northern region. Stein, 40, holds a law degree from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and a first degree in economics from the Hebrew University Jerusalem. He has held a series of managerial posts in the bank. Izdorfer, 51, has been with the bank for 27 years, holding senior managerial positions in Israel and abroad. He has an economics degree from the Hebrew University. Cyngler-Confino, 38, has been with the bank for 13 years. Prior to being given responsibility for the whole of the northern region, the married mother of three was manager of the bank's central northern branch in Haifa. She has an MBA from the University of Haifa and a first degree in economics and business administration from Tel Aviv University. BUSINESS TYCOON Lev Leviev, a generous benefactor to the haredi community, who is himself affiliated with Chabad, may be facing a haredi boycott according to a Maariv report. Leviev's manifold business interests include the trans-Israel highway, designated sections of which according to some haredim, contain Jewish graves. Haredi activists have announced that if excavations for the construction of the highway continue in those areas in which they believe there are graves, they will issue a boycott order against all of Leviev's business interests. TEMPORARILY BACK in Israel to see if she can run her business by remote control is Edna Kissman, a partner of Kissman Langford Ltd., a London-based public relations agency. A sabra who was raised in Jerusalem, Kissman's start in the communications industry was with Dan Patir when he was working as the media consultant to Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin. She was subsequently hired as an account executive with public relations agency Ruder Finn in the days when the Israel branch of the firm was headed by Harriet Mouchly. Kissman later went to the US to expand her professional horizons and was hired by Burston-Marstellar. After several years in the US, she moved to England, where she became a senior executive in Burston-Marstellar's London office, rising to the position of vice chairman and chief knowledge officer, before entering into a partnership with Martin Langford. Kissman has long dreamed of coming home, but was tied down by professional considerations. Aware that computers and other hi-tech equipment make it possible for people to live in one country and work in another without necessarily commuting, Kissman is cautiously testing the waters. She may discover that in the years that she's been away Israeli business has grown big time, meaning that she may not have to depend on an overseas clientele. BRITISH AMBASSADOR Tom Phillips hosted a farewell reception for Peter Stephenson who has been the Director of Trade and Investment at the British Embassy since 2004. The event also provided an opportunity to welcome Stephenson's successor, Richard Salt. Stephenson, who is known for his sometimes wicked sense of humor, was more emotional than funny on this occasion, although he did raise a smile or two when in the process of thanking all the Israeli business people who had been so cooperative and hospitable, he also thanked the people who helped him to improve his golf and his tennis. Among the things he would miss, he said, were the luncheons hosted by the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association, because they always managed to have such good and interesting speakers. Stephenson also expressed the hope that Israel and British Gas would conclude a deal whereby British Gas will supply natural gas to Israel. In wishing Stephenson well, Phillips commented on the huge number of e-mails that had reached the embassy expressing regret that Stephenson was leaving. TALPIOT/MATRIX has named Libby Effin as its COC for offshore outsourcing. Effin, a computer science graduate of Thomas Edison State College, was previously the Matrix computer manager at the Foreign Ministry. In her new position, she will be responsible for operations in Beit Shemesh and Modi'in Illit. THE OFFICE of Public Liaison at the White House has announced the appointment of Jeremy L. Katz as its lead for Jewish Outreach. Katz is a special assistant to the president for policy. In this role, he assists in the coordination, development and implementation of administration policy. Prior to his coming to the White House, Katz was at the Department of Commerce as senior policy adviser to Secretary Don Evans. Earlier, he worked in investment banking at William Blair & Company in his native Chicago. He received his bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. AFTER 13 years in Israel, Murray Smith the deputy secretary general of the Bahai International Community is going home to New Zealand, but will retain close contact with Israel. Smith will be representing several hi-tech Israeli firms, a factor which could give a considerable boost to bilateral trade between Israel and New Zealand. Smith, who also has good connections with New Zealand sheep farmers, will look into the prospect of exporting New Zealand lamb, reputedly the best in the world, to Israel. This may be difficult in view of differences between the two countries with regard to the most painless way of slaughtering animals. In New Zealand, the animals are stunned before they are slaughtered. Although this has been reluctantly accepted by the Muslim community whose rules for animal slaughter are very similar to those of Jews, stunning is not acceptable under Jewish law. It still remains to be seen whether New Zealand lamb could be sold to meet the needs of Israel's Muslim and Christian communities. Though full of praise for Israeli cuisine, Smith says that one of the things he missed most was the taste of succulent New Zealand lamb.