Israel’s government is leading 50 executives this week on a tour of Africa in a bid to diversify business interests amid the threat of international boycotts and irritation over new corporate taxes.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman is seeking deals in the world’s fastest-growing economies for companies including defense contractor Elbit Systems Ltd. (ESLT), irrigation equipment maker Netafim Ltd. and billionaire Idan Ofer’s Israel Chemicals Ltd. (ICL) Ofer was in Ethiopia last month to inspect his latest investment in a $642 million potash mining project. The company is looking to turn around the worst stock return this year on the Tel Aviv benchmark stock index.
Israeli companies and politicians are “sensitive to the issue of isolation,” said Terence Klingman, head of research at Psagot Investment House Ltd. in Tel Aviv. There’s a push to spread the export base to “countries that are more agnostic about the state of Israeli-Palestinian relations,” he said.
International funds that manage more than $1 trillion have divested from Israeli companies as Palestinians have turned to economic sanctions in their campaign to end Israel’s 47-year-old occupation of the West Bank. About 350,000 Israelis live in settlements there amid 2.3 million Palestinians.
Norway’s $880 billion sovereign wealth fund, the world’s biggest, excluded Africa-Israel Investments Ltd. from its portfolio because the Tel Aviv-based company has construction and real estate activities in Jewish West Bank settlements. PGGM, the Dutch asset manager with $200 billion, rebuffed Bank Hapoalim Ltd. (POLI) and other Israeli lenders last year. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Israel risked “being an apartheid state” in comments he later apologized for.
SOURCE: Jonathan Ferziger