Afternoon Tea in Jerusalem Blog

Life in Israel

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Israeli commercial life and society

In addition to my work as a business coach, one of my interests is blogging about life in Israel. This is a country full of contrasts – over eight million citizens living in an area the size of Wales. You can see snow and the lowest place on the globe in the same day. Although surrounded by geopolitical extremes, Israel has achieved a decade of high economic growth. My work brings me in contact with an array of new companies, exciting technologies and dynamic characters. Sitting back with a relaxing cup of strong tea (with milk), you realise just how much there is to appreciate in the Holyland. Large or small operations, private sector or non profit, my clients provide experiences from which others can learn and benefit.

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A holy lesson in high-flying openess

Last week, London buried former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher. Her beliefs hauled Britain’s economy away from disaster in 1977 and towards prosperity by the early 1990s. Since then, Thatcher’s methodology has been copied by numerous other macro financial planners, usually with success.

For all the benefits of sweeping privatisation and free economies, specific communities in Britain were devastated by the changes. they were never cared for in a fair manner. This created a hatred that was sadly still evident decades later at Thatcher’s funeral.

Thatcher was a great friend of Israel. The Holy Land’s economy has also seen a massive transformation since 1986. However, it continues to suffer from key structural restraints. One is the old-fashioned and expensive labour practices at its ports. A second is the ludicrously high cost of air travel. And in order to tackle the problem of airplane tickets, today, Sunday, the government in Jerusalem is expected to ratify an open-skies policy with the European Union.

To give a very simple example of the problem: A few years ago, I flew 50 minutes from Tel Aviv to Cyprus, paying hundreds of dollars for a return flight. At the time, I noticed last-minute one-way deals from the UK to Cyprus available for as low as 6 dollars. Enough said!

The benefits of the change will be sweeping and immediate. Holidays and business travel will become cheaper at an instant. Easy Jet has already announced that it is poised to lay on several more flights to Israel, and not just from the UK.

And the down side? Very simple. Up to 17,000 local jobs will be placed at risk. The unions are furious and the strikes have started.

As somebody who needs to travel overseas for commercial and private reasons, I have long been furious with the amount I have had to pay for each ticket. However, I am deeply sympathetic to the unions. El Al and its sister companies are rightly forced to incur heavy security costs, because of Israel’s geopolitical situation. (Just consider why there was no point in targeting an Israeli aircraft on 9/11)! These are overheads that none of its overseas competitors face.

So what can be done? Yes, we all know that the unions are replaying a game to see how much they can screw out of the system before they lose power. For all that, they have a very reasonable argument. Why the domestic airline companies, unions and government cannot talk this out is beyond me. It goes back to some basic practices of ‘good business’, sorely lacking here.

Sooner or later, the revolution will come. The question is whether the government can show enough competence to ensure that the suffering – immediate and longterm – is reduced to a minimum.

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