Joint Press Release – 28 February 2012

Minister: Israel can be a bridge between U.S./China

Israeli Minister of Industry, Trade and Labour briefs ZCV, ZFA during visit to Australia

In order to continue to remain unscathed from the Global Financial Crisis, Israel’s government is encouraging investment in East Asia and plans to work with Australia on joint investments, according to Shalom Simhon, Israel’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Labour.

Simhon held an hour-long briefing for leading community members associated with the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) and the Zionist Council of Victoria (ZCV) 26 February in Melbourne.

“Israel sees in Australia a true friend,” Simhon said. “I believe that trade and technology represent the best part of our relationship. We plan on holding meetings with leading Australian officials, and I hope this will open new doors for Israel to further expand our goals. As I’ve grown to understand the Australian Jewish community, it is among the warmest in the world; the warm attitude of the community has translated to a warm attitude in the government.”

Israel’s two-way trade with China is about US$7.5 billion, and that figure is expected to rise above US$10 billion within 4 years, according to Simhon. Chinese culture and language is being introduced as part of some schools’ curriculum, and the government has a 100 million NIS program to work with companies to integrate into the Chinese market.

“The Prime Minister believes our emphasis needs to be on China, and the Prime Minister believes Israel can act as a bridge between China and the United States,” Simhon said.

Israel has a low unemployment rate – 5.5 percent, the lowest in 30 years – but high prices for housing and childcare, as well as increased standard of living costs such as food, have put a strain on young families in the middle class. Simhon said that the government is addressing these issues.

Commenting on a particular focus of employment policy, Simhon said:
“Only 24 percent of Arab women and 35 percent of Ultra-Orthodox men are employed; these are also the sectors that are likely to have larger families, and this creates enormous stress on the family and society as a whole. They are a large potential workforce that is not put into the employment market, and we need to make sure that we utilise them…

“From my knowledge of the parties we’re serving with, the Orthodox parties understand we need to enact change for their benefit, because these figures of unemployment are not good for their community as well.”

The ZFA and the ZCV were appreciative that Simhon participated in the briefing.

“The connections between Australia and Israel are kept strong by frequent high-level contacts with the government of Israel, and it is a particular pleasure to be able to hear from ministers who make visits with the Jewish community an integral part of their talks with the Australian government,” said Sam Tatarka, ZCV President and ZFA Vice President, in welcoming Simhon.

Simhon outlined his busy schedule during his visit to Australia, aimed at joint trade adventures with Australia and strengthening the already strong relations.

In thanking Simhon for his insights, Ian Samuel, ZFA Chairman of Hasbara, said: “We are very grateful for the work that you do to ensure that the balance of trade between Australia and Israel is at such a high level.”

Further information:
Joshua Cole, ZFA Communications/Events Director – 03 9272 5618 / 0405 075 856, jcole@zfa.com.au
Ginette Searle, ZFA Executive Director – 03 9272 5517 / 0412 251 343
Jane Rapke, ZCV Executive Director 03 9272 5544

The Zionist Federation of Australia represents the Zionist aims of the Australian community by supporting, enhancing and encouraging the Australian connection to Israel with Israel Engagement projects, Israel Advocacy, Israel programs (short and long term), Teacher Education (National Jewish Educators’ Conference), Zionist youth groups and student organisations, Zionist Seminars in schools.

The Zionist Council of Victoria leads and encourages Jewish and Zionist activity and expression within Victoria, to represent the Jewish community, to promote and communicate Israel’s interests within the broader Victorian community and to promote Victoria’s relationship with Israel.