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Jul 29, 2014

Israel still pulls business heavy hitters, but Palestine off the table

The Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce has some big connections in the business world -- and they are far too polite (and politic) to mention the current unpleasantness in Gaza.

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Lately it seems nobody has as much pulling power with the business community as the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce … but don’t mention the war.

In recent months in Sydney alone the AICC has hosted Business Council president Catherine Livingstone, Qantas chief Alan Joyce and Telstra chief David Thodey — star attractions at mega-lunches — with hundreds of business types turning up for a decent three-course meal, glass of wine and good-humoured promotion of Israel’s attractions.

The audience hears from high-powered delegates who have recently returned from one of the trade missions hosted constantly by the chamber, and publicly at least, their impressions are highly favourable. Venture capital funding and R&D are recurring themes as Israel touts its credentials as a technology investment destination — the “start-up nation”, with the second-most NASDAQ-listed firms outside Silicon Valley.

The pro-Israel commercial message is softened by the good-humoured shtick of bow-tied MC Kim Jacobs, the chamber’s longtime state president, with self-deprecating charm.

Palestine is not mentioned, in my experience, and perhaps that’s to be expected at a business lunch where politics is touched on lightly, if at all. Now, however, there is a war on in Gaza, Australians are watching the shocking images nightly, and the casualties and destruction are overwhelmingly on the Palestinian side.

Perhaps there would be a drop in numbers? Some discussion? Not a bit of it.

UniSuper chairman and former head of Colonial Chris Cuffe made an oblique reference to how his recent tour of Israel with the chamber had been useful in understanding the “current tensions”. Very polite. Arguably too polite, given what is going on in Gaza has already triggered a United Nations war crimes investigation, and ceasefires are not holding.

When I asked Jacobs and Livingstone at the event about the possible impact of the war in Gaza on business relations between Australia and Israel — for example through boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), they demurred at the time.

Today Jacobs, speaking as managing director of corporate strategy business Inteq Ltd, told Crikey it was a valid question but one he and Livingstone chose not to answer yesterday, given the AICC was “apolitical”.

Jacobs says the chamber’s members have not raised concerns about the war in Gaza, and he was not surprised by the strong turnout yesterday. “Why would Catherine Livingstone speak at our function as an opening address if she thought there was an issue? We really appreciate the support.”

On the prospect of BDS, Jacobs points to an opinion piece published in The Jerusalem Post by former Business Council president Graham Bradley in 2011, when he led a mission to Israel, which said BDS had “no credibility … none of it has any traction in senior government or business circles in Australia”.

Jacobs came back last week from a five-day trade mission led by NAB chief Cameron Clyne. For most of the 26 people who went, it was their first time in Israel. “Some were concerned at the situation,” said Jacobs. “When they arrived they were pleased we were mainly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Sirens went off once or twice a day, but the Iron Dome was very effective. Everyone felt very safe and secure, and quite a bit of business was done between the two countries.”

Jacobs says the trade missions try to give people a people a balanced view, but of course it is not safe to go into Gaza. “All we, as any organisation would want, is for no one else on either side to be injured and for there to be at least a ceasefire, if not a peace. Economic trade and business is the way to continue to ensure that there is a reason to work towards a peace.”

Livingstone is also chair of Telstra, which has important contracts in Israel. In his March speech, chief Thodey described Israel as the “epicentre of world innovation”.

Thodey said:

“It’s interesting when you look at Telstra, and you look at the number of software companies that we actually use that come from Israel. We’ve already talked about Verint, all our provisioning systems come from a company called Amdocs, which is critical to the operation of Telstra every day. And I could go through a list of about 10 companies … that had their genesis in Israel, some of them now based in New York, that we use and are absolutely dependent on, on a daily basis.”

There is no such business support for Palestine, which has no chamber of commerce here.

Suzannah Moss-Wright, chief executive of the Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry, did not even have a figure for our bilateral trade with Palestine, but said Australia has exports worth $8 billion to the 22 Arab League countries, compared with imports of $2.3 billion — a trade that runs heavily in our favour — and she added, “if there is one thing that unites the Arab world, it’s support for Palestine”.

By contrast, Australia’s exports to Israel in 2013 were $228 million, while imports were $619 million.

Moss-Wright says conflict between Israel and Palestine has been going on since 1948, and anyone doing business there would have factored in the risk of war. “Those people who have engaged in trade with the region have already calculated that risk.”

It will be increasingly impossible to avoid the discussion.

Paddy Manning —

Paddy Manning

Crikey business editor

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27 thoughts on “Israel still pulls business heavy hitters, but Palestine off the table

  1. Mike R

    Kevin, Your comment above(6) suggests that the moderator of Crikey is censoring you again. They seem to let you get away with endorsing material from neo-Nazi sites recently (see http://www.crikey.com.au/2014/06/17/rundle-the-deadly-cast-of-characters-in-iraqs-lethal-isis-game/?wpmp_switcher=mobile&wpmp_tp=1, comment 19 in particular) so you must have had something even more extreme in mind.

    And by the way my four senior executives at all four banks and at a much higher level than yours tell me that your claims(7) are all made up.

  2. Kevin Herbert

    Apparently even racist bigots serve some purpose.

    I again invite Crikey readers to listen to the case against Zionism so clearly espoused by David Duke, to whom I was referred by the leading anti Zionist English Jew Paul Eisen:


    Eisen regularly appears on Duke’s radio program and is a voice of reason.
    Also, may I also suggest that a visit to Paul Eisen’s website is well worth the effort, as he represents the leading edge of global Jewish community revulsion at the pernicious pro Zionist propaganda spread mainly via the Zionist controlled US MSM, over the past 65 years. Eisen’s explanation of how he went from a Zionist bigot as a young man, to an outspoken anti-Zionist is emblematic of the current sea change among Jews globally in their attitude to & desertion of apartheid/ethnic cleansing Israel.

    Eisen tackles traditionally taboo subjects such as the once sacrosanct Zionist ‘historical facts’ regarding widespread racism against European Jews, and presents scholarly research papers such as one by late 19th century UK diplomat, contesting the then alleged newly developed Zionist ‘anti-semitism’ narrative, and successfully arguing that such claims are groundless e.g. the low public reputation of a very small section of the then Jewish communities in the UK, occured not due to their ethnicity or religious beliefs, but solely for the flaunting of their wealth in the face of the grinding poverty faced by the vast majority of the 19th century population, including Jews.

    He also tackles head on the farcical situation regarding the 69 year refusal of German Jewish Shoah scholars to share their data with any other scholars.

    I admire Eisen enormously, as he like other great modern dissident Jewish scholars such as Noam Chomsky & Norman Finkelstein, refuse to bow down to tyranny.

  3. Kevin Herbert

    One of the key claims of the radical white nationalist website Stormfront (see 21 above) is that Jews control the US Government.

    This view is also held by the black supremacist group, the Nation of Islam, led by the impressive Minister Louis Farrakhan, who also posits that Obama is a Wall St stooge – something that even his initial rusted on supporters are coming to accept.

    This view is also held by the esteemed US/Israeli historian Dr Norman Finkelstein, a Jewish intellectual, and also by Noam Chomsky, another Jewish intellectual & probably one of the globe’s best know moral philosophers.

    The following 3 June 2014 article from the esteemed US publication ‘The Unz Report’, compellingly makes the case that Zionist Jews DO control the US Congress.

    I invite Crikey posters to read this article, search Google for similar evidence from US Congressmen & women e.g. Ron Paul, plus a wide range of neutral sources such as Chomsky et al, and make up their own minds.


    You’ll note that NOT ONE US Congressman or woman dared to criticise Israel’s barbaric targeting of Gazan civilians over the past 3 weeks…there’s primary’s due soon for the 2016 election, and to speak out would see you dirty tricked out of your seat.

    If you accept this evidence, then you’ll have to agree with the further point that the US is the only Western developed democracy whose foreign policy is dictated by representatives of a foreign government.

    It’s worth noting that the vast majority of ordinary Jews globally, have no idea of this situation. Those decent people of the Jewish faith are going to face some very confronting realities about their beloved Zionism, whose image has been obliterated as recently as this week, by apartheid, ethnic cleansing Israel. May I suggest that a good palce to start is the website of the UK anti Zionist Jew Paul Eisen.

    As for Zionist/Jewish control of the US MSM plus Wall St,and its privately owned US Federal Reserve Bank, let’s leave that for another time.

    It appears that what was once dismissed (by of course the US MSM) as race hate, is gradually being accepted by free thinkers globally, as reality.

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