THE START-UP NATION
Small but dense
Israel is roughly the size of Vojvodina. Yes, it is that small. It is just because of its enormous historical and cultural value and the “density” of historical sites that it seems so big in our minds.
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Hebrew is risen
Israel is alone in having revived an unspoken language as its national tongue. - 03 -
Beersheva has the largest number of chess grandmasters per capita of any city in the world, due to the mass influx of Soviet Jews who were excellent chess players. - 04 & 05 -
It is well known that the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth — less well known is that it is 260m lower than the next lowest place — Lake Assal, in Djibouti. - 06 -
Time to rise
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The Mount of Olives in Jerusalem is the world’s oldest continuously used cemetery. It still receives people waiting for the Messiah to show up at one of the gates of the Old City so they could rise up finally. Among the first, of course.
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Law is something more than the Constitution
Israel is one of only three democracies in the world without a codified constitution. The others are UK and New Zealand.
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Israel or Judea? Hebrew, Yiddish or German? Palestine or Uganda or Yiddishland?
During the formation of Israel, there were lots of ideas about where to locate the Jewish state. Stalin suggested the Far East in Siberia, the Brits tried with Uganda and Western Australia, while the Jews themselves suggested the formation of Yiddishland in Poland, Belarus and Lithuania, for the Ashkenazim. Even the name was contested. The two biblical names in the "final match" were Israel and Judea, while Yiddish and German did not stand a chance after WWII, so the then-dead Hebrew was chosen as the official language, since any resemblance to German would be disastrous for the Holocaust-stricken nation.
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I NT E RV I E W
H.E. Yossef Levy Israeli Ambassador to Serbia
Serbia has Become
A PART OF ME
After five years serving in Serbia, the current Israeli ambassador is heading back to Tel Aviv, leaving bilateral and investment relations between the two countries in better shape than ever, and with the only regret that the potential for trade relations is still not fully realised
sraeli Ambassador Yossef Levy is soon to leave a Serbia that is a very different place to the one he encountered when he first arrived here in 1999, when the stench of war could still be felt in the air.
Thanks to profound changes in the country, Serbia is a state with which Israel has excellent bilateral relations and a place in which Israeli companies have invested about two billion dollars in real estate projects. â€œI am
happy and proud that I played a modest part in rapidly advancing cooperation with Serbia in so many fields,â€? says the ambassador. In this interview he speaks about the global threats that affect both countries,
structure of at least two important states: Iraq and Syria. The tragedy in the Middle East is self-made. Serbia has proven itself to be a careful, stable and just-country, which impressed the whole of the EU with its generous hospitality. I salute the Serbian government for its impressive stand, which I think is welcomed by many countries.
We often hear that gatherings of rightist movements in Europe resemble a new awakening of fascism. Is that too strong a diagnosis, or does this really represent serious cause for concern? - Some believe, like UK newspaper The Guardian, for example, that Europe is losing its central parties and governments are dependent on extreme right wing forces. A year ago it was the “economic and Eurozone crisis” that was at the top of the European agenda, namely internal European developments. Today it is immigration challenge and Islamic terror. According to some surveys, extremist parties enjoyed support up to 30 per cent in the first five years after the economic crisis. I would be personally very cautious in using the word “fascism”, but there is certainly a deterioration of democratic values in some European societies. As Jews, we are seven times more alert, because extremism unleashes intent hatred towards minorities, including Jews. In one rich Scandinavian country Jews are simply afraid to walk with a “kippah” on their heads or to expose other Jewish symbols. This represents the total bankruptcy of democratic values of freedom and pluralism.
How much does this situation further complicate the political, security and economic situation in Israel? about bilateral and trade relations and their potential, as well as sharing his personal feelings about his time in Serbia.
What is your assessment of the current situation in relation to the migrant crisis and the situation in the Middle East, and what do you expect in the period ahead? - The migrant crisis is not only a political and democratic earthquake in Europe, but also a moral and practical test for many European nations. Israel is not in a position to preach morality to any country or to comment on what is right and what is wrong, but two things are clear: the Arab world has totally failed to protect the physical lives of its entire people. In spite of their wealth and power, there is a mass exodus from the Middle East towards the safe haven of Europe. The extremism came from within the Arab world and destroyed the political
- Israel is more than ever before an island of stability in the chaotic Middle East. Of course, we are worried when just one kilometre from our borders is Hezbollah, Assad soldiers, Iranian agents and ISIS terrorists are ‘’exchanging punches with each other’’. We are stuck in the most dangerous human volcano.
Over a year has passed since Prime Minister Vučić visited Israel. What kind of impact has that visit since had on the development of bilateral relations between the two countries? - Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić had a wonderful and friendly encounter with our officials. PM Netanyahu expressed great admiration for Vučić’s European perspective and the dialogue with Pristina, which can be a model for other conflicts, including ours. We are 1,000 light years away regarding regional stability, compared with the
Balkans. A couple of days ago I had the pleasure of submitting to PM Vučić a thank you letter from Prime Minister Netanyahu regarding topics of “restitution and Holocaust victims”. The Government and Parliament of Serbia deserve special recognition for their courage and cordial solidarity with the Jewish people throughout history. The Serbian example will serve as a model to other European capitals of how good people should behave.
Considering your extensive knowledge of Serbia and vast diplomatic experience, how would you assess the progress Serbia has made since the early 2000s, when you first arrived in Belgrade as a diplomat? - All good things come to an end. Soon I will go back to Israel after five amazing years in Belgrade, a city I love very much. Let me tell you honestly that I feel like I am at home here. I may sit on an airplane and go back to Tel Aviv, but I will never leave Serbia as a concept. Serbia has become part of me. I am glad and proud that I played a modest part in a rapidly advancing Serbian cooperation in so many fields. Almost every week
The government and parliament of Serbia deserve special recognition for their courage and cordial solidarity with the Jewish people throughout history I am invited to cut a ribbon on new Israeli projects, such as the Aviv Arlon Parks, Central Garden, Belgrade Plaza, Zemun Park, a beautiful project in Rajićeva still under construction and many other projects in Serbia, as the list is too long to mention them. In August 1999, when I first arrived in Belgrade, the stench of war could still be felt. Europe was around, but didn’t knock on the door. Today much has changed. Look what dramatic change you went through in the last 17 years. You are certain candidates for Brussels and you are in a good place on the map.
Can we now say with more optimism that economic cooperation between Serbia and Israel has progressed from formerly modest figures? - Partially, yes. I am very pleased with the dramatic growth in Israeli investments,
especially in real estate. On the other hand, I am disappointed with the stagnation of our bilateral trade. While investments are over two billion dollars since 2000, commerce is still not good enough. The right formula to match between Serbian production and ours has not yet been found. You can take this as a joke, but I always think about the amazing Serbian “Ajvar” as a product that could easily be distributed in every Israeli kitchen. They would love it. Whenever I visit Israel I bring back with me fantastic Israeli dates and give them to my friends. You will not find such dates in local supermarkets.
Apart from the real estate sector, which other areas attract the most Israeli companies? - Serbia is blessed with extraordinary people: engineers, IT experts, craftsmen etc. Most of them are unfortunately earning very little. That gap between very high standards and very low salaries is always a magnet for businessmen who know how to make money.
Due to the increasing interest of Israeli companies, you recently began publishing a small economic bulletin. How popular is it today as required reading,
Almost every week I am invited to cut a ribbon on new Israeli projects, such as the Aviv Arlon Parks, Central Garden, Belgrade Plaza, Zemun Park, a beautiful project in Rajićeva and many other projects in Serbia
Are you satisfied with the pace of activities for the final arrangement of the Memorial Complex at the Old Belgrade Fairground? - After years of waiting there is finally an action at the “Staro sajmište” site. The committee headed by Bishop Jovan Ćulibrk enjoys the full support of the government and the city. Devoted officials like Mayor Siniša Mali, city architect Milutin Folić, Vladimir Božović and others are cooperating with the Jewish community and with us to turn “Staro sajmište” into a commemoration site for the victims of the Holocaust.
and which information most interests subscribers?
Do you have enough time to devote to writing books and how many works have you written?
- I assume that you are talking about “Iz–I– biz” which is an Israeli-Serbian business magazine that we produce. We decided to renew it just after the economic crisis. Every time we publish the magazine we get more and more requests to be included in the next issue, which reflects the positive results of which we are happy and proud. Probably the most popular part of the magazine is the section that shows business opportunities and public tenders in Serbia.
- Well, when I came here I didn’t think I would have such little time…Belgrade is a capsule of energy that swallows you in. I started to write two texts here in Belgrade. I write late at night, just after the kids go to sleep. The first text is a chronical of my Afghan family, a story I want to tell to my son when he grows up. The second text is a wild and funny story which happens here in Belgrade. I hope I will have enough courage to publish it one day. Some of the heroes from my text will probably blush when they read it.
I NT E RV I E W
Cooperation in Agriculture
MOST PROMISING The greatest potential to attract Israeli investments and strategic partnerships with our companies lies in the agri-food sector, in the area of infrastructure and the processing industries. The two chambers are working in partnership to strengthen mutual economic ties
Nikola Janković Director of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce’s Centre for Bilateral Cooperation
etter use of the comparative advantages of both countries would allow more intensive development of joint activities in a number of sectors, but especially in agriculture, says Nikola Janković, director of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce’s Centre for Bilateral Cooperation.
What do you think is the main reason why the foreign trade exchange between Israel and Serbia remains sub-optimal, despite its high potential? - One of the reasons why the potential for trade exchange between Serbia and Israel is not sufficiently exploited is that Serbian companies, generally, find it easier to opt for traditional markets with which they are more familiar, which they find more accessible and safer, while on the other hand Israeli businesspeople are insufficiently familiar with the Serbian economy and opportunities for cooperation. The Serbian Chamber of Commerce is working intensively to improve competitiveness and promote the potential of the Serbian economy on foreign markets. When it comes to Israel, an important partner for us in these activities is the Federation of Israel Chambers of Commerce,
which represents the interests of the business sector in Israel and is committed to developing the market economy and free enterprise. The Federation of Israeli Cham-
The Serbian economy as a whole, but also individual entrepreneurs, following the experience of Israel's business community, can learn how to improve business competitiveness and strengthen private initiative bers of Commerce, recognising the necessity to connect Israeli companies with foreign partners, has launched a programme on its website that allows foreign companies to enter a bid for cooperation to be submitted to all Israeli companies. This possibility has been used to date by individual Serbian
companies. The Embassy of Israel in Belgrade is also very active in promoting economic cooperation and informing business circles in Israel, Serbia and Montenegro about opportunities for companies to connect. Economic experts at the Embassy of Israel, via the embassy’s own newsletters and publications, distribute business information, news and information on current affairs, as well as the business offers of companies. Of course, there is also the Serbian Embassy in Israel, which also provides support, both to Serbian companies and Israeli companies interested in establishing cooperation with the Serbian economy.
Why is there such a major discrepancy between the level of Israeli investment according to official statistics and the evaluation of Israeli investments primarily in the real estate sector? - Balance of payments statistics, within which foreign direct investments by countries are monitored, the inflow of funds is registered according to the country of payment, which is the reason for the discrepancy in levels of investment. Consequently, it occurs that foreign companies, including Israeli firms, invest in Serbia via their subsidiary companies located in other countries.
- Israeli investors are most interested in investing in the agriculture/food sector, the metal industry and ICT.
What is the main obstacle preventing the higher sales of Serbian goods on the Israeli market, primarily in the field of agriculture? - The agri-food sector is among the leading sectors for more intensive economic cooperation between Serbia and Israel. Opportunities for the greater exchange of goods certainly exist, but the greatest potential lies in attracting Israeli investments in the
Which Israeli investments in real estate would you single out in particular? - There are many Israeli investments in the real estate sector and it is difficult to single out any individual one, because every investment is of great importance to the local economy. These investments are not only located in Belgrade, but rather
throughout Serbia, and each of them has brought new value to the development and improvement of the city or region where they have been implemented.
Apart from the real estate sector, in which other areas has the highest interest of Israeli investors been recorded?
The Serbian economy as a whole, but also individual entrepreneurs, following the experience of Israel's business community, can learn how to improve business competitiveness and strengthen private initiative
Serbian food industry, strategic partnerships between companies and joint production and placement of high-quality agricultural products on third markets. Serbia has suitable soil and a favourable climate for the production of cereals, industrial crops, fruits and vegetables, seeds and seedlings, herbs, cattle and other livestock. On the other hand, Israel is a country that has managed, thanks to the application of the latest technologies, to raise its agriculture to the highest level and produce food not only for the domestic market, but also large quantities for export, despite the majority of Israeli territory being desert.
What can Serbia learn from Israel when it comes to the development of the IT sector and fast-growing start-ups? At conferences and seminars in the Serbian - Chamber of Commerce Israeli experts often represent the phenomenon of Israel â€“ how such a small country has managed to reach the top of the world of technology and be among the first on the list in terms of the number of newly established companies. Several positive factors contributed to that, beginning with the financial assistance from the state and tax incentives, through various support programmes, to strong relationships between educational institutions and the business community. The cultural specificity should also be taken into account - the entrepreneurial spirit, a willingness to take risks, learn from oneâ€™s mistakes and accept failure as a step towards success and reaching new targets, the ability to adapt to changes and orientation towards the international market. The Serbian economy as a whole, but also individual entrepreneurs, following the experience of Israel's business community,
can learn how to improve business competitiveness and strengthen private initiative.
Opportunities for the greater exchange of goods certainly exist, but the greatest potential lies in attracting Israeli investments in the Serbian food industry
What kind of progress has been made in mutual cooperation in this area? - There have been some improvements, but those are negligible compared to the potential that exists. The Embassy of Israel is an important partner and it supports the promotion of economic cooperation and strives to convey the Israeli experience in Serbia through a programme linking higher education institutions, development centres and companies. These are long-term projects that are being implemented in stages. And, with persistence, perseverance and patience, success will surely come.
Where do you see opportunities to further improve cooperation? - There are numerous opportunities to further advance cooperation, especially in the domain of infrastructure and the processing industries. Good relations and political cooperation between the two countries are an essential prerequisite for the strengthening of future projects. Serbia is interesting to Israeli businessmen because of its good geostrategic position, the benefits offered by free trade agreements and its access to a market of more than a billion consumers. Foreign companies are particularly interested in the system of incentives that exist for investments in the processing industry and export-orientated services. Investors can take advantage of incentives of varying amounts, depending on the sector, number of workers they employ and the level of development of the region, while there are also open investment opportunities in public-private partnership projects.
I S RA EL I ECONOMY
Robust, Resilient and
As of 2015, Israel ranks in the top 18 nations in the world according to the UN's Human Development Index, which places it in the category of "Very Highly Developed" countries, making it the highest ranked country in the Middle East and even surpassing top European countries, such as Austria, France and Finland
srael is one of the world’s most resilient and technologically-advanced market economies. Its skilled workforce and concentration of venture capital allow the country to be a leader in innovative industries, such as high-tech, cleantech, and the life sciences. After a brief period of recession in 2009, as a result of the global financial crisis, the country’s prudent fiscal policies and regulations, combined with a particularly robust banking sector, allowed the economy to recover quickly. According to the latest data from the Bank of Israel, gross domestic product is projected to increase by 2.8 per cent in 2016 and by 3.0 per cent in 2017. The rate of inflation over the next year (ending in the first quarter of 2017) is expected to be 0.8 per cent, while in 2017 the inflation rate is expected to be 1.4 per cent. The Bank of Israel’s interest rate is expected to remain at its current level of 0.1 per cent until the first quarter of 2017, before increasing gradually
Israel ranks consistently high among the world’s economies when it comes to technological readiness, venture capital availability and the quality of its research organisations from the second quarter of 2017. According to the Heritage Foundation, the 2016 Economic Freedom Score for Israel was 70.7 (up 0.2 points compared to 2015), while the country ranked 35th on the global scale. Israel’s openness to global commerce is an important factor in promoting innovation and productivity growth. Benefitting from an in-
creasingly diversified production base and ongoing structural reforms, the economy has grown almost four per cent annually over the past five years. The government has revitalised privatisation programmes covering all key state-owned entities, but progress remains to be forthcoming, notes the report accompanying the ranking. Israel gained unanimous support to join the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2010, signifying its status as one of the world’s 34 most developed economies. The OECD praised Israel's scientific and technological progress and described it as having “produced outstanding outcomes on a world scale”. Israel also ranks consistently high among the world’s economies when it comes to technological readiness, venture capital availability and the quality of its research organisations. The country ranks 1st in the availability of scientists and engineers (with 140 qualified scientists, technicians, and engineers per 10,000 employees), and is ranked fourth worldwide in terms of scientific activity, as measured by the number of scientific publications per million citizens. Israel's percentage of the total number of scientific articles published worldwide is almost 10 times higher than its percentage of the world's population. Technology is growing faster than any other industry in Israel. According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, high-tech industries as a whole are growing at eight per cent per year, while 4.9 per cent of the nation’s GDP is spent on high-tech industries – the highest among all OECD countries. In 2006, high-tech industries accounted for 70 per cent of the nation’s industrial product. The country also ranks 1st in the number of start-ups per capita, with the second-largest number of start-up companies in the world (after the U.S.) and the largest number of NASDAQ-listed companies outside North America. According to Geektime, the total number of new start-ups rose to 1,400 in 2015, of
The country ranks 1st in the number of start-ups per capita, with the secondlargest number of start-up companies in the world (after the U.S.) and the largest number of NASDAQlisted companies outside North America
which about 373 companies raised around $3.58 billion, while 69 companies were sold for a total sum of $5.41 billion. Israel ranks 1st in venture capital investments per capita and according to Israeli research firm IVC and international accounting firm KPMG, in its annual Israeli Venture Capital Fund Raising Report for 2015, a total of $1.02 billion was raised by
Israeli venture capital firms (VCs), slightly down on the $1.2 billion raised in 2014. Considering its small domestic consumer market, Israel has strategically extended beyond its borders in order to sell its products and offer its technologies. Between 1980 and 2010 Israeli exports doubled every decade, though they failed to advance in the past five years. Israeli exports totalled $45.7 billion in 2015, down seven per cent compared to 2014. Analysis of the data shows a continuation of the downtrend in exports that began in 2012. The Israel Export Institute blames the decline on currency fluctuations and low oil prices. Israel’s top three trading partners in 2014 were the United States, China and Hong Kong, while the top three exported goods were precious stones & metals, electrical machinery and pharmaceuticals. Among its strongest industries are aviation, communications, computer-aided design and manufacture, medical electronics, fibre optics, wood and paper products, potash and phosphates. At the same time, Israel is one of the world's three major centres for polished diamonds, alongside Belgium and India, and is also one of the world's major exporters of military equipment. Israel’s life-sciences figures show a record 1,380 companies active in Israel today – 53 per cent of them dealing in medical devices, 23 per cent pharmaceutical companies and 20 per cent digital or mobile healthcare companies, according to a report published by IATI, the umbrella organisation of the Israeli high-tech industry. A total of 3.1 million tourists visited Israel in 2015, according to figures released by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. Additionally, an all-time record was set in the number of Israeli departures abroad, with almost six million departures. The number of tourist arrivals represents a four per cent decrease compared to 2014, when more than 3.3 million tourists visited Israel. The industry brought in more than $10 billion in 2014, down slightly on 2013.
CORP ORAT E
Aviv Arlon Continuing Investments in Serbia
viv Arlon is an Israeli real-estate and construction company founded in 1963. The company has now been operating in Serbia for nine years, mostly investing in real - estate. Aviv Arlon built the first ever retail park in Serbia, Aviv Park Pančevo, spanning an area of almost 30,000 square metres. People here proved to be very receptive to the retail park concept, since it fits the shopping needs of the population in all relevant parameters – from the location to the brands offered at these parks. The company continues with its invest-
ments in the retail sector and opened two new retail projects at the end of last year – one in Belgrade and one in Zrenjanin. The retail centre in Belgrade opened its door in early autumn, enabling citizens of this Belgrade municipality to enjoy 11,500 square metres of shopping facilities, offering everything a family needs in one place – from big hypermarket, clothes and footwear shops, to sporting goods stores and variety of café bars, fast food and classic restaurants where one can enjoy probably one of the best views of Belgrade panorama. Cherishing the same concept and prov-
en success the company opened Aviv Park Zrenjanin in October last year. Aviv Park Zrenjanin span 22,500 square metres and takes advantage of a parking area with over 800 parking places. Since Aviv Arlon always remains true to its concept, the citizens of Zrenjanin enjoy a new shopping experience mixed with entertainment and a great offer which will place this retail project among the leading retail projects in the Vojvodina region. MORE GOOD NEWS FROM AVIV ARLON COMING SOON.
BI LAT E R A L E CONOMIC COOPERAT ION
Major Real Estate
INVESTORS IN SERBIA
Economic cooperation between the two countries is characterised by modest trade, but also by significant Israeli investments, especially in infrastructure and construction
lthough there is plenty of room to increase mutual trade cooperation, the trade exchange between Serbia and Israel remains at a modest level. It last year totalled about 45 million dollars, which is at the level of the long-term average. Serbia’s exports to Israel in 2015 amounted to $19.1 million and show a growth tendency, while imports from Israel stood at $25 million. Cooperation could be intensified, particularly in the area of trade, investments in high technology and agriculture development. The largest level of exports was recorded in 2008, when the total value of the trade exchange between the two countries amounted to $74.1 million (of which Serbia’s exports totalled $20.4 million, while imports from Israel stood at $53.7 million). However, exports had already dropped significantly by the next year, as a result of the crisis.
Imports from Israel are stagnating partly due to Serbia’s greater orientation towards EU countries in terms of trade, and partly because of the distance of the market. Israeli imports are mainly based on cooperation with companies established
Israeli real estate investments exceed $1.5 billion and are primarily directed towards the construction of luxury office buildings, shopping centres and high category hotels
with Israeli capital in Serbia. The most important products in the 2015 exports were parts for turbojet or turbo propeller engines, cigarettes, pet food, dried fruit, special machinery, electronics, pneumatic tyres for passenger cars, etc. The main exporting companies were: LPOAda, PHILIP MORRIS OPERATIONS NIŠ, FARMINA PET FOODS and others. In 2015 Serbia imported from Israel: herbicides, fungicides, chemical products, plant protection products, medicines, appliances for telephony and telegraphy, denatured road salt, etc. The main importers were ADAMA SRB DOO, NORMA GROUP SOUTH EAST EUROPE DOO-Subotica, ISCAR TOOLS Belgrade, GREEN HIT Zemun and others. According to the statistics of the National Bank of Serbia, Israel occupies 20th place on the list of foreign investors in Serbia. The value of Israeli FDI reached €44 million as
The value of Israeli FDI reached €44 million as of year’s end 2015
of year’s end 2015. That is according to official statistics, while it is estimated that the real value of investments is much higher, about 1.5 billion euros, though this is a result of influxes from other countries. Israeli investments are focused primarily on building luxury office buildings, shopping centres and high category hotels. Airport City Belgrade (a joint project of companies Africa Israel and Tidhar Group) was declared by the OECD as the most successful greenfield investment in the region in 2006. This ambitious project envisaged the construction of 186,000 square metres of office space and a luxury hotel in its composition, with a total value of €200 million. The realisation of the entire project was slowed down by the economic crisis. October 2014 saw company Africa Israel Investment, together with the Shikun & Binui Group, start preparatory work on a new location for the construction of the Central Garden residential complex. The two companies plan to invest €120 million in the construction of this complex. Companies CEE – Central European Estates and Meshulam Levinstein joined forces with company Big Shopping Centers Ltd. to form a joint company and invested €50 million in the construction of a shopping centre that opened in 2012 in Novi Sad, which is the largest such retail centre in Vojvodina, covering an area of 40,000m² and employing approximately 1,000 people. Big CEE has operated in Serbia since 2008 and has to date invested 70 million euros and has also built the Europe Business Center office building in New Belgrade, as well as owning several different locations in Belgrade, Jagodina and Šabac. Company Globe Trade Centre International – GTC has so far invested more than 150 million euros in the construction of a large number of commercial and residential buildings – GTC House, GTC Square and 19th Avenue. The company has also launched construc-
tion of a new, fourth office complex, Forty-one, located in Block 41 in New Belgrade. Israeli company Strauss - International bought DonCafe-Šimanovci in 2005 and has so far invested more than €60 million in this business. Company Plaza Centers, part of the Elbit Imaging Group, bought the bomb-damaged building of the Federal Ministry of the Inte-
Airport City Belgrade (a joint project of companies Africa Israel and Tidhar Group) was declared by the OECD as the most successful greenfield investment in the region in 2006
rior in Kneza Miloša Street for €29.1 million. The company plans to construct a five-star hotel on this site, which has an estimated value of around €150 million. This company also built a commercial-business and entertainment centre in Kragujevac in 2012, investing over €60 million in this project. Plaza Centers has also purchased land in Kruševac, though a purpose has yet to be determined for this site. The Eliezer Fishman group, which deals worldwide in construction, telecommunications, media, retail etc., bought the Eurosalon Homecenter in 2007. The group has so far invested around €30 million in the company and has outlets in Belgrade, Niš, Kragujevac and Novi Sad. Aviv Arlon holding company is engaged in the development and construction of real estate. Their first investment was in Retail Park Pančevo in 2011, after which investments continued with the construction of Aviv Park Zrenjanin (€30 million) and Aviv Park Zvezdara (€15 million) which opened in autumn 2015. Company Ashtrom (through its Serbian subsidiaries - ABD and Avital – as representatives) is investing in the construction of a hotel and office complex in downtown Belgrade (shopping centre in Rajićeva Street), covering an area of 58 square metres and with a value of €80 million. It is believed that this investment will employ 400 people. In 2015 the project entered the construction phase and this year the completion of works is expected on a public parking garage with 500 places that is to be located within this business complex. The planned construction period for the shopping centre and hotel is the third quarter of 2017. According to preliminary data of the Serbian Statistical Office, in 2015 Serbia was visited by 8,897 tourists from Israel, which represents a slight increase of 0.2% compared to 2014. In this period there were 21,823 overnight stays, which is 11.2% more than in 2014.
CORP ORAT E
New Gem in the City Centre Belgrade Plaza will be the first modern-style retail and leisure centre in the old part of Belgrade, in the Palilula District – and an ultimate entertainment spot with breath-taking views of the Danube
Rabia Shihab Country Manager and CFO at Plaza Centers
elgrade will soon be enriched by another major retail centre: Belgrade Plaza, the second project of international developer Plaza Centers in Serbia. Here Rabia Shihab, Country Manager and CFO at Plaza Centers, talks about the project.
Plaza Centers has extensive experience in shopping mall development in Central and Eastern Europe, and Belgrade Plaza is not the company’s first project in Serbia. - Plaza Centers has been present in Central and Eastern Europe since 1996 and has pioneered the concept of developing, constructing, leasing and managing retail and leisure centres throughout the region, whilst building a strong track record. Belgrade Plaza will be the 34th shopping mall developed by Plaza Centers in the CEE region and the second in Serbia. Our first project in the country, Kragujevac Plaza, was opened in 2012 and sold successfully in 2014. Belgrade Plaza is being developed with the best of our expertise gained throughout a long journey in the field of Real Estate, and also with long-lasting business relationships with retailers, creditors and contractors.
Belgrade Plaza will be a relevant addition to the retail market of Belgrade and Serbia as a whole – could you tell us more about the project. - Belgrade Plaza will be the first modern-style shopping and entertainment centre in that old part of Belgrade, in the Palilula District – the biggest district in the city. The project is located between Višnjička Street, the main thoroughfare in this part of the city, providing two pedestrian entrances to the mall, as well as car access to the back parking, and Uralska Street, offering pedestrian access directly to the upper
floor of the shopping centre and a spacious open green parking area. With a leasable area of 32,300m2, the centre will consist of two levels of retail and one level dedicated to dining, leisure and entertainment. Apart from a variety of leading fashion brands and a supermarket, Belgrade Plaza will be the ultimate
Belgrade Plaza is the perfect destination for new international retailers who are waiting for the right place and right time to enter the Serbian market entertainment spot in the area, with an eight-screen cinema, as well as a restaurant and food court area with breath-taking views of the Danube through our well-designed glass façade, green terraces and skylights.
How is construction of the project progressing and when is the planned opening? - Construction of the development is progressing as planned. The first floor column construction has already started and the opening of Belgrade Plaza is planned for the second quarter of 2017.
What can Belgrade Plaza customers expect in terms of the retail offer in the mall? Will Belgrade Plaza introduce new brands to the Serbian market? - Belgrade Plaza is the perfect destination for new international retailers who are waiting for the right place and right time to enter the Serbian market. Aside from various domestic and international companies with whom the Serbian customers are familiar, such as IDEA, Cineplexx, Laguna, Dexy Co Kids, Navigare, VIP Mobile etc., we are proud to announce that the mall’s offer will also include well-known international brands that are new to the Serbian market. I truly believe that Belgrade Plaza will be an ideal destination for families and all generations, as it will be able to satisfy anyone’s needs, from shopping, to entertainment and socialising.
BUS I NE S S
START-UP NATION — Text —
How can one always be prepared for something new? Well, don’t invest in material values and capital, which could always be lost instantly. Instead, invest in ideas, invest in mind-sets, as that is something you can carry with you whenever you are in trouble
Be ready to leave everything and start all over again Which nation has the most start-ups in the world? The answer is unexpected if you don’t apply enough analytical thinking. The answer is: Israel! Why? Because for hundreds of years the Jews, like the Serbs, were subject to persecution. It could very easily happen that one day you have a small shop, a jewellers, a bakery, a bank, and the next day you are, all of a sudden, forced to remain exiled after a fire destroyed your business. Antisemitism was rampant from the Crusades (at least) until 1945 (and even later, especially after the formation of Israel, in Arabic countries). Therefore, the Jews had to learn, during their 2000 years of exile from Palestine – their traditional homeland – to govern with skills and ideas. Thus, in their society it is always the same: the most respected person is one who can make money, not one who has money, contrary to popular opinion. Israel, a country with a population of roughly eight million people and only about 20,000km2 of territory, really impresses people when it comes to creativity in business. We all know Jews have done great work in many areas, won a staggering number of Nobel prizes, but basically what Israel is really like is well beyond anyone’s im-
Israel, a country with a population of roughly eight million people and only about 20,000km2 of territory, really impresses people when it comes to creativity in business agination. It’s called the Start-up Nation, and there is a little doubt as to why. Jews, not only Israelis, are smart and well-educated. They may comprise only 0.2% of the world’s population, but they have 54% of - Left -
Being refurbished and turned into a business hub.
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High-tech park, Petah Tikva.
the world’s Chess Grand Masters, 27% of Nobel Physics Laureates, 31% of Nobel Medicine Laureates and have earned six Nobel Prize in recent years: four in Chemistry and two in Economics.
Staggering facts, indeed
The Israeli Institute of Technology – The Weizmann Institute of Science and the Technion-Israeli Institute of Technology are ranked among the world’s top twenty academic institutions. This has contributed to the fact that in Israel, a very young country, there are more scientists and engineers per capita than in any other country. This is also what has made Israel a world centre of technology and start-ups. By comparison, that number is almost twice as high as in the United States and Japan. In Israel citizens creates more than 200 new start-ups annually, and in Israel there are an astonishing 2,500 start-up companies currently operating. Well, let examine some facts about that. According to data obtained from Reinhold Cohn Group, Israel’s leading IP firm: • Israel is No. 1 in the world for the number of start-ups per capita: one start-up per 1,800 Israelis • Israel is No. 2 in the world in absolute number of start-ups. For a country so small, that
is amazing. Of course, as expected, the U.S. is No. 1. Search online for the Israeli Startup Map. You may check that out to gain a visual sense of the vast number of startups, incubators and R&D operations in Israel and you are sure to be quite amazed. • Israel is No. 3 in the world in terms of the number of companies traded on NASDAQ, after the U.S. and Canada. • Venture capital investment per capita in Israel is 2.5 times higher than in the U.S. and 30 times higher than in Europe. The absolute amount equals the sum in Germany and France. • Israel is the world’s leader in the number of registered patents per capita, while it is also No. 1 in terms of R&D spending per capita.
Technology is better, technology is the best!
Quite a few fascinating technology products have been invented in Israel, including mobile phone technology, top of the line Intel processors, USB flash drives, the ICQ instant messaging system, drip irrigation, firewall technology, ingestible pill video camera (PillCam), voice-over-IP, the electric car network system (Better Place), community-based navigation (Waze) and iron dome. And one third of all new ‘game-changing’ medical technologies originate in Israel, including Oridion and InSightec. There are whole areas of Tel Aviv and its surrounding, like Herzliya or Petah Tikva, that are “packed” with high-rise buildings that are
themselves “packed” with scientists. It is often called “Silicon Wadi” (wadi is Arabic for valley, you guessed correctly). Haifa is the second example of such a cluster. The consequence of all of the aforementioned achievements is that it has become
Venture capital investment per capita in Israel is 2.5 times higher than in the U.S. and 30 times higher than in Europe a growing trend to establish the major R&D centres of multinational companies in Israel. Right now, the big players in the country include IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, Google and SanDisk. As such, it is no surprise to see that Israel is the number export country in Intellectual Property (IP), which is the greatest value Israel brings to the global industry. Regarding the hot spots of Israeli innovation, well, there are some new things that will happen soon! Communication, digital printing, internet & media, green technology, waste management, water technology, solar energy, nanotechnology, biotechnology, medical devices… Exciting times are ahead.
Smart cities are the next step Company “Cisco Israel” is, for example, a leader in promoting new “smart” ideas for Israeli cities. “Intelligent cities proportionately bring benefits to townspeople and improve connections within the settlements, bringing people together just like infrastructure” – said Roei Hermon, one of the directors of Cisco Israel. Intelligent or smart cities will have technologically advanced kiosks with touch screens, or instructions that can help you find a free parking space or free garage nearby. Cities will also be able to economically progress with some new technologies, such as intelligent traffic lights that function only when necessary (sensor-activated) or by means of efficient algorithms for determining the availability of public parking. John Baekelmans, Cisco’s vice president based in London, has said that each city is different and that the company will develop various technologies that will be able to solve every problem individually for each city and each unique specific need. Tel Aviv, however, will provide the location to test some new technologies, such as intelligent gigantic kiosks, which can for starters help many tourists find navigate the city and improve their experience.
Guideline for Serbia
Israel is quite small and lacking all sorts of resources, and it is surrounded by the sea and not too many friends. The only way to survive and become stronger is to innovate, say officials. And they are quite right. And this is, as the final conclusion, a good example for Serbia. Israeli culture is similar to Serbia’s, because Serbian society developed during wars, embargos, bombing, and that’s why it could be considered ideal for the development of entrepreneurship. Israelis do not respect authority, think outside the box and, above all, do not have too many alternatives for business but to create their own... just like Serbs. So, Israel is a case study for Serbia. There is no better. And no one will come to invest in us on a whim, for no apparent reason, despite what politicians might say. You have to invest yourself in yourself, in your idea, and then those who are interested will appear and the money will flow. Take, for example, two technological marvels that are not from the United States: Skype, which is from Estonia, and Viber. And where does Viber come from? Belarus and Israel! Case closed. - Left -
Building in Petah Tikva, in so-called Silicon Wadi.
I NT E RV I E W
Danijel BogunoviÄ‡ President of the Jewish Community and Founder of the Israeli-Serbian Business Association
Together we can
DO MUCH MORE
As the Jewish Community is the centre of the religious, social and cultural coming together of the community, so the Israeli economic association in Serbia brings together all those interested in helping to strengthen economic ties between the two countries
ews have provided a huge contribution to the economic development of Serbia throughout history. The Jewish Community of Belgrade, which is the founder of the Israeli Economic Association in Serbia, today wants to renew that tradition and contribute to the economic development of Serbia. In this effort it has the strong diplomatic and institutional support of both countries.
To what extent does the Jewish Community today represent the central gathering point for Jews in Serbia? - Prior to World War II and the great tragedy that befell the Jewish people
In early May the Israeli Business Association organised a seminar in the field of agriculture, with special emphasis on the use of advanced Israeli technology in agriculture and forestry, as well as cooperation with local governments
during the Holocaust, the central point for the gathering of Jews was the family. The most important holidays, like Passover, Purim, Hanukkah and Shabbat, were marked in the family circle. After World War II, during which Nazi Germany killed about 90 per cent of the Jewish population in Serbia, the central gathering point became the Jewish Community. In Serbia there are 10 such communities and the biggest is the Jewish Community of Belgrade. The umbrella organisation for all of these is the Federation of Jewish Communities of Serbia. So, all of the most important things in the context of the Jewish population are carried out through the Jewish community.
What are the Community’s most important areas of work and activity? - The first and most important goal is to ensure the life and the continuity of the Jewish community in Serbia. We are striving, through various creative activities, to bring together as many of our members and friends of the community as possible. The Jewish Community has a religious, cultural and social role; it is active in the fight against anti-Semitism, works with children and young people, cares for the survivors of the Holocaust, and of late it has also been working on the formation of a positive image of the Jewish community and opening up towards the surroundings.
Tourism is also very interesting and there’s great space to to bring more tourists from Israel to Serbia, but also to enable Serbian tourists to visit Israel with affordable arrangements
How did you come up with the idea of establishing of the Israeli-Serbian Business Association? - If we look at history, especially prior to World War II, Jews in Belgrade and Serbia provided a huge contribution to the economic development of our country. And even today the Jewish Community in Belgrade, which is the founder of the Israeli Business Association in Serbia, wants to contribute and help the economic development of Serbia. I have to mention that, when it comes to the issue of economic cooperation between Serbia and Israel, a lot has already been done by the Israeli Embassy in Belgrade and the Serbian Embassy in Tel Aviv, as well as individuals from Serbia and Israel, and the Israeli Business Association was established precisely in order to try to help all of them. The President of the Israeli Business Association in Zoran Stojković, while the executive officer is Bojan Ratković. Looking at the countries of the region, specifically Romania, where there are a lot of Israeli companies doing business successfully, we wondered why we shouldn’t attempt to create such an ambient in Serbia, which would entice more Israeli companies to do business in Serbia. We also wondered why there couldn’t be more products from Serbia on the Israeli market. These are some of the main reasons why it was founded and why, in cooperation with the states of Serbia and Israel, it will work the most with the Israeli Business Association in Serbia.
In which way can it help strengthen economic cooperation between the two countries? - The board of directors of the Israeli Business Association and the heads of its various committees include people who are very operational and professional in their fields. And those fields include aerospace, agriculture, the IT sector, security, tourism, medical tourism, law and advoca-
cy, finance, media etc. There are also people from Serbia who have been living and working in Israel for a long time. We plan to use them for contacts and work on the ground. We also organise frequent visits to Israel for members of the Israeli Business Association Management Board. The essence is hard work on the ground and connecting Serbian and Israeli businessmen. We are finalising the develop-
when it comes to the issue of economic cooperation between Serbia and Israel, a lot has already been done by the Israeli Embassy in Belgrade and the Serbian Embassy in Tel Aviv, as well as individuals from Serbia and Israel
ment of a website that will be in Serbian, English and Hebrew, which will aim to present the economic potential of Serbia; in short, it will be a mirror the most positive things that Serbia has to offer.
In which areas do you see opportunities to help the most in the establishing of connections between entrepreneurs of the two countries? - This is, for example, in agriculture, where Israelis have the most advanced technology which, in collaboration with our agricultural potential, could provide great results. We are currently working on the preparation and implementation of projects in this field. In early May the Israeli Business Association organised a seminar in the field of agriculture, with special emphasis on the use of software in agriculture and forestry, advanced Israeli technology in agriculture and the use of zeolites in agriculture. Tourism is also very interesting and there’s great space to to bring more tourists from Israel to Serbia, but also to enable Serbian tourists to visit Israel with affordable arrangements. Then, in Israel there is very high demand for building timber and stone, for construction workers of all profiles, so we are also working intensively in these areas. We also should not forget the IT sector and medical tourism, where we are also active. Here I have listed only part of what the Israeli Business Association deals with.
What kind of cooperation have you so far achieved with the state and economic institutions of the two countries? - When it comes to Serbian institutions, we have established the greatest cooperation with the Deputy Speaker of the Assembly of the Republic of Serbia and the President of the Economic Caucus, Vladimir Marinković. A working meeting has also been held with the delegations of the Israeli Business Association and the Economic Caucus of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia. In Tel Aviv the delegation of the Israeli Business Association had a reception at the Embassy of Serbia, where we were welcomed by Ambassador Milutin Stanojević and his associates. As far as the Israeli side is concerned, we certainly have the greatest support from the Israeli Embassy in Belgrade, from Ambassador Yossef Levy and Deputy Ambassador Itay Milner. We have also established cooperation with the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, more precisely with the Director of the International Relations Division, Zeev Lavie. In the coming period we plan to intensify cooperation with relevant ministries in the Republic of Serbia, as well as with local governments.
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F ROM DES ERT T O GA RDE N
After seeing images of Israel, especially depicting lush and green regions, palm plantations, greenhouses and floral landscapes, lots of people asked themselves if that could really be Israel. Is it not, like all of its neighbours, a rather deserted place? People expect to see camels, “caravans making their way across endless dunes...” and although 60 per cent of Israel is still desert land, full of dry riverbeds, deep craters and rocky mountains, Israel has converted a huge percentage of its territory into a lush garden 26
s it not, like all of its neighbours, a rather deserted place? People expect to see camels, “caravans making their way across endless dunes...” and although 60 per cent of Israel is still desert land, full of dry riverbeds, deep craters and rocky mountains, Israel has converted a huge percentage of its territory into a lush garden. There could be no worse solution for the construction of the homeland of any nation than a nearly barren desert close to the salty Mediterranean, right? Well, for the Jews there weren’t many better solutions available. And for the Zionists, inspired by ideas of Theodor Herzl, there was simply no other solution that Ottoman Palestine and, later, British Mandated Palestine. Simply, there were too many emotions, too much history of the Jews over there. And, interestingly enough, Herzl was inspired by the Serbian Uprising and the Serbian Principality, as his father was from Zemun. So, if the Serbs and the Greeks could retrieve their traditional homelands, why not the Jews? So, after the tragic Holocaust, or the Shoah, the world softened, the Partition of Palestine was given the green light and the creation of a Jewish state in the Middle East soon became a reality.
Nature is the main enemy, but could be tamed
But, it was neither the partition nor the clash with the neighbouring Arabs that was the main problem. The problem was – even back in British Palestine, or under the Ottoman occupation – nature itself. Judea, Galilee, Samaria, Negev... These regions were far from the fertile lands the Jews had inhabited in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus or Moldova, where everything grew in abundance. In Palestine, and later, in the Independent Israel, the people had to struggle to make it a garden. But they succeeded miraculously. Well, not miraculously at all actually, but with hard work and organisation. It was collective spirit. It was patriotism. It was solidarity. Let us see some examples. At the beginning of the 20th century Jews from Europe started to buy land near the Arab settlement of Jaffa, and named it, conveniently, Tel Aviv, Spring Hill. It was a sandy beach, and it is well know that the Arabs, as a desert-dwelling people, were not particularly fond of sailing, with some notable exceptions. It all started as a modest settlement, but it soon turned out to be a metropolis of the Orient, comparable only with Beirut. It became a commercial
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hub, with beaches, discotheques, business centres. Now it is like all the cities in the American Southeast, or Soviet Central Asia. It may not have been a good environment for a start, with little water and hard work reqired, but that hard work led to a miracle. Now it is called the “Big Orange”, as a comparison with the world’s other great “Jewish”, the “Big Apple”, New York. Ben Gurion was so fiercely in love with the Negev Desert that he exclaimed fierily: If Israel wants to survive, it must expand through the Negev, to the South! Ben Gurion decided to form a port and a resort on the site of the village of Um Rash-Rash and Israel built Eilat, its prime resort, out of nothing.
Kibbutz as a refuge
It was once thought that the desert was unfit for homesteading or agriculture. However, though it is still sparsely populated with only about 10 per cent of Israel’s total population, residents of various kibbutzim and moshavim (cooperative agricultural communities) have reclaimed the desert and turned great swathes of wasteland into vast expanses of producing greenhouses, date palm groves, banana plantations and vineyards. Isaiah 27:6 promises that “In days to come…Israel will bud and blossom and fill the world with fruit” (NIV). Well, it’s somehow come true. But how it is to be in a kibbutz? You may have seen the touching photos of young and old people trying to build a farm in the middle of nothingness, but then you cannot believe what you see: something like an Egyptian five-star resort. However, there is always a story that made a kibbutz… and in most cases it was an unpleasant one. Kibbutz Masabei Shade is one of the largest and most beautiful such communities. It was created between the two wars when, in modern Western Ukraine (then Poland) some anti-Semites blew up a Jewish bakery and the family de-
cided to move to British Palestine. That is how modern Israel was born. After 1945, when it was clear that some evil people were willing to do all possible bad things to them, and lots of these malevolent people actually did some horrible atrocities to the Jews, the Jews went to the end of the world so that they could not be touched any longer. If someone wondered “Would I live here? How boring! That person should swiftly think about this: “They had a bomb planted in their bakery. They came here so that nobody could
The Israelis claim the land from the desert, claim the plants from the sand, claim their own future, which is green and blossoming, from the past, which is sandy, deserted and dry touch them, and they planted vegetables in the desert. Everything was better than a bomb in your bakery". That should never be forgotten. However, although Masabei Shade looks sweet, with houses like some Egyptian resort, it is an arid and harsh environment. And this is what lures people and repels them. But, this is one of the recipes for Israeli agricultural success. Lots of them are very collective in spirit and made under strict, almost Socialist principles.
Innovation out of sheer necessity
Due to the fact that Israel has had to develop solutions for growing crops in arid, adverse conditions, it is at the forefront of
A bustling seaside town was once upon a time a small fishing village called Um Rash Rash.
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In the middle of nowhere University Ben Gurion, Be'er Sheva, Negev Desert.
world agricultural innovation – especially in the areas of irrigation and water recycling – and it is sharing this technical knowhow with the world, fulfilling its God-given call to be a light to the nations. In fact, droughtplagued Israel is now able to desalinate much of its water from the Mediterranean and may be able to export water to other nations in the near future. And when it faced the worse crisis in water supply, they launched the best-ever water saving campaign! And they succeeded, once again. Israel Talby David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, moved to the Negev with a dream to make the desert bloom. He believed that the Negev would be central to Israel’s growth as a nation. Today Ben Gurion’s dream is being realised. The desert is now flourishing, with thriving agricultural communities— blossoming, just as God said it would be—a stunningly beautiful place with a fascinating past and a prophetic future. Just like the Americans in Nevada or New Mexico; just like the Soviets in Turkmenistan. But the Jews are not the Americans, nor are they Soviets. Gurion wanted millions of Jews in deserts, but after 69 years they number less than 40 per cent of the predicted figure. But slowly, step by step, the Israelis claim land from the desert, claim plants from the sand, claim their own future, which is green and blossoming, from the past, which is sandy, deserted and dry. Knowhow worth exporting? Most definitely.
PEOPL E OF I S RA E L
DELICATE BALANCE — Text —
Israel might be easily one of the most sucessful projects of reintegration and intergration of different communities in one hetorogenous society, despite the constant image of threat and disharmony spread by the world's media
Speak Russian so that the whole world could understand you Speak Serbian so that the whole world can understand you, we say. It is actually Russian in Haifa. Really, it is Israel? Yes, it is. Well, let us start from the beginning. The Downtown Haifa was already something that everybody likes if they like the Mediterranean spirit: houses and buildings made of white and yellow stone, older people living and moving in the slow rhythm of the Mediterranean, playing cards and dominoes... Everywhere inscriptions in Hebrew, Arabic, English and... Russian! And if you do not know Hebrew (Ivrit), and try your luck in English, you are likely... not to succeed, but if you remember - Left -
Dome of the Rock
One of the holiest Muslim places.
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Orthodox Jews frequently pray with an object called tefillin.
that about 40 per cent of the population of the city comes from the former USSR, then you will rather use “Govorite po-russkij?” instead of “Do you speak English?”. Then you see some hot blondes on the streets, and all of a sudden Russian inscriptions will not be strange. So, using Russian you will most likely get an accurate piece of information. Of course, if you speak Russian at all. The good thing is that the ex-Soviets, that is Russian Jews, brought the culture of pubs and going out for a slice of nightlife. The tourist tactic is easy: go into the pub and see if the flag Dynamo Kyiv and Chernomorets Odessa is hanging somewhere, or if waitresses look like girls from Serbia, just say it out loud: "Dobry večer, dva piva!”. It will give you an almost 100 per cent hit. Most of the places to go are just held by these Jews who are usually very secular. That applies in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beersheba, pretty much everywhere. Well, we have known one layer of society. Of course, not all the secular Jews are from ex-USSR, but they are all pretty much alike. Like in every other Western country, Russia included in the West.
The people with hats & the rest
Not all the Jews living in Israel are secular. Lots of them are religious. And just like that, they will be all around you. The people in black jackets and white shirts, with black hats. Yes, like somewhere in Eastern Poland in 1924. The influence of these people is quite strong. As we mentioned before, all public transport stops in Israel from Friday sunset until Saturday sunset, because it it Shabbath time, time to rest. But wait, what about the Muslims, the Christians, and, above all, non-religiuous Jews? And the tourists? Maybe someone wants to travel to the airport or just for fun? If religious Jews or maybe, all Jews want to celebrate Shabbath
The task of making and preserving such a delicate balance in such a complicated society is very hard by resting, is not there enough other people to drive buses and trains? Or, like in Dubai, can they just hire a handful of foreigners to do the job? Well, the country decided to appease the religious Jews and not to provoke them. The religious Jews are the second very important part of the mixture. Some of them
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A Muslim girl
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Tel Aviv beach
Centre of bustling multiculturality.
don’t serve. The Druze community and the Circassian community just add up to this wonderful and colourful mosaic with their specific customs. Actually, every community is somehow connected to some area of your interest. Want a delicious sweet? are quite picturesque, with their Satmar-furhats and long curly sideburns. In some very strict quarters it is not advisable to photograph them, but generally they are very friendly and show a great hospitality.
What about the rest of the ”Jewish melting pot”?
Israel is a place stranger and ”newer” than America or Australia, and yet, it is very old. The vast majority of Jews actually came from somewhere, in the last 100+ years, either after porgroms or Shoah, or recently. No-one is ”the old family“. Lots of them are bilingual
Downtown Haifa was already something that everybody likes if they like the Mediterranean spirit
at home, regardless of their acquired English language skills in school. Although all of them share the same nationality and religion, the fact that some of them came from Belgium, some from Morocco, some from Ukraine... gives the unique flavour to the cousine and the behaviour of Jews of Israel. It makes people very open to each other. Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Mizrahim... Even the Ethiopian Jews or some more exotic types... Anyone can be a Jew and Israeli by their appearance. If you don’t know the language, never mind. Take your time. There is no such place for a newcomer as Israel in the world.
The pieces of puzzle that complete the picture
Lots of Israeli citizens are Israeli Arabs. Some of them are Muslims, some of them are Christians. In Jerusalem, they differ just like in Beirut. Christian Quarter has more fixed prices, wider streets. Muslim Quarter is full of spices and with narrow streets and bargaining. They are both united with their Arabic language and divided by they opposing faiths, yet united in the same Abrahamic monotheism with Jews. Some of them are very patriotic towards Israel, like Negev Bedouins, who serve in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), while some other Arabs
If you don’t know the language, never mind. Take your time. There is no such place for a newcomer as Israel in the world OK, head to the Muslim pastry shop. Want a beer? Head to a Russian pub. Want it kosher, Christian, halal? Whatever.
The delicate balance
The balance among the three main groups in Israel, i.e. Secular Jews, Orthodox Jews and Arabs, is meticulously maintained. And it is not easy in such a place. Lots of countries have this challenge confronting them and yet, the balance is somehow best kept in Israel. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at all the street signs and road signs. Hebrew, Arabic, English. And the shop signs in Russian. Truly cosmopolitan. Truly, the task of making and preserving such a delicate balance in such a complicated society is very hard.
T OURI S M
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Israel is a unique country. It is strikingly small (the size of the province of Vojvodina), and extremely “dense” with history, archaeological sites, and places of great importance to holy books of all Abrahamic religions. Thus it is hardly surprising that it is one of the most visited places in the world, and one of the most inspiring; and, of course, one of the most desired and contested lands
I travelled the world and the seven seas... or was it four? I once picked up the infight magazine on one of my flights, on an aeroplane of the sadly departed Hungarian airline Málev, if I recall correctly. And one of the special issues “in focus” was a flight from Budapest to Tel Aviv. The article focused on the tourism possibilities of Israel, of course, but a sentence that was in a way strikingly “poetic”, and certainly most unexpected, was that the country lies on... four seas! Four? Well, yes, in a way… at least in English. There is The Mediterranean Sea, with Tel Aviv as the famous seaside summer destination known for its beaches and nightlife, which attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. Then there is Eilat and its Red Sea beauties, which is comparable with, if not even better than, Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt and Aqaba in Jordan, which are both nearby. And although the Dead Sea is in fact a salty lake, we call it a “sea”, right? Quite universally. And the fourth…? I was confused, since in Serbian the proper name should be “The Lake of Galilee”, but in English it is a sea. That is quite confusing, given that it is not even a saltwater lake, but a freshwater one. But, the verbal figure was right: four seas. And a lot to see in between, when you are not bathing, sunbathing and swimming.
Holiness as a gift and a curse
Israel is a country that can be described in many ways. We can say that this is “Eu-
rope relocated to the Middle East”, which sounds great to us, but the Anti-Zionists cite this fact as the main reason why Israel should not be there, but rather somewhere else. It resembles Scandinavia under the
From Friday evening until Saturday evening, city buses, intercity buses and trains simply do not work, as the Sabbath is a nonworking day southern sun, partly because of the rather high prices and partly due to its (good) organisation. Like other Mediterranean countries that belong to the culture of the West, like Cyprus, Malta, Greece, Lebanon, Turkey and even Alavistan, it is in a way very Euro- Left -
Magnificent Masada - Up -
Iron, like lion, on...
Yes, it is there. Mount Zion and a church on the top.
pean, while also being very Southern and Oriental. But that's not all... Israel has what none of those countries do: holiness. This holiness is so “heavy” that we can say that every village, every hill, every stone and wall has meaning: a prophet was here doing something and there are verses from the Bible dedicated to every corner of this country, not to mention the history of the Crusaders, those “upstarts” from a millennium ago. Therefore, it is unusual to be in place about which you’ve heard so much, read so much and seen so many films. If Murray Head sings in his song “One Night In Bangkok” that he “can feel the Devil walking next to me”, here we are closer to the idea that God walked... somewhere next to us.
Tel Aviv = Springberg (not Springfield)
Tel Aviv is certainly the focal point of all fun-loving tourists. Eilat has a warmer sea, Jerusalem has more history, but Tel Aviv, which means “Spring Hill” in Hebrew, is the place offering the most fun in the Middle East. Some say that Beirut can keep pace, others dispute that claim. Whatever the case may be, the combination of parties, concerts, pubs and beaches ensure the whole experience is magical. Tel Aviv is a new city, with skyscrapers and plenty of steel and glass. It was one of the first Jewish settlements in Palestine. If you want more history, head for good ol’ Jaffa, knows for Jaffa Cakes in Serbia. That basically makes
a lot of sense, since Jaffa oranges form the basis of these cakes. But Tel Aviv itself is not devoid of history. It is interesting that Tel Aviv has the largest number of Art Deco style buildings in the world, and they have been carefully preserved and documented. It has grown to become a popular tourist destination and in 2003 UNESCO responded by adding the White City (Ha-Ir HaLevana) to its list of World Heritage Sites.
the former frontier area. It has the Wailing Wall, the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock, Zion, Golgotha … it is filled with the footsteps of Christ. It is everything that you need to see. Quite simply, somehow it seems that anything you wish there must be fulfilled one day… if not immediately.
Tel Aviv has the largest number of Art Deco style buildings in the world, and they have been carefully preserved and documented Dead Sea, the deadest of seas
City of Peace constantly awaiting peace The holiest place in the world is most definitely Jerusalem. It is so strange that you feel so close to God that you feel somehow euphoric and energised. It is the greatest city in Israel, composed of many layers. It has its new boroughs, its Arabic part and new trams. It was a city divided until 1967, while its façades are full of bullet holes in - Top -
Haifa beach - Right -
Where it all started - the house where Vergin Mary recived the news that she would give birth to the Saviour.
The Dead Sea is the lowest dry point on Earth, and it has the saltiest water. And not only salt is there. It is filled with potassium and God-only-knows what else and, in combination with the hottest Sun possible, it gives an unreal aura to the experience of bathing there. Do not swim, don’t even try. Just float on your back and read newspapers, find a suitable photographer to take a picture and frame it. Buy cosmetics made of salt from the Dead Sea and become
younger. Find Sodom and Gomorrah and reflect over the sin and virtue. It is the place of hell and heaven, somehow strangely wed.
The most appropriate song to listen to when you go to Galilee is Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus. Or is it the other way round? Anyway, there is no other place in the world where so many Jesus-related events happened. Nazareth, where he lived and was conceived, the Sea of Galilee, where many other things happened, including his waking on water... Nazareth is one of the top Christian locations in Israel, and until recently was predominantly Arab and Christian at the same time. Haifa, on the western edge of Galilee, though not in it, is a magical place with Mount Carmel and the world’s Bahai’i centre. Acre is a Crusaders’ city that was mentioned by Paulo Coelho. Yes, most recently. If you go to Negev you will see the Russian language centre of Be’er Sheva or Bersheba, with an exorbitant number of chess masters. With one foot in the present, and the other firmly in the (holy) past, Israel is a country of ancient and modern humans, with a climate and culture that varies from place to place. It is a “must” for every traveller. Now anyone can be a pilgrim and “hadji”, according to Balkan Christian tradition. So why don’t you?