Michael Khoury is Israel’s trade consul to Canada. He hails from the predominately Arab city of Shfar’am, in Israeli’s north, near Haifa. He is in the second year of a four-year posting in Toronto. He came with his wife, who works in the consular section, and three children attending local schools. He spoke to The CJN earlier this month.
Can you tell me a little about your background?
I am the consul for economic affairs of the State of Israel here in Canada. Our main job is to try to promote Israeli exports and help Israeli companies do business here in Canada, and to try to attract Israeli investors to Canada.
I joined the Ministry of the Economy in 2000 and before that I worked for Bank Hapoalim, the biggest bank in Israel, as a financial consultant. I decided to change careers because I believe exports and trade is the future and it is very important.
Where have you been posted before?
Canada is my second posting. My first was in Athens. I was sent there in 2003 for four years, and it was very interesting, due to the fact the Olympic Games occurred in 2004.
We succeeded to get eight Israeli companies involved in Olympic projects, with total sales or exports for the companies of around $30 million. They were involved in homeland security and telecom companies – cameras and surveillance systems.
What was the reputation of Canada in Israel as a posting for people like yourself?
It is a good place – good potential, good economy, nice people, bad weather. Yes, it is pretty much like the U.S. economy, but 10 times smaller.
We have two offices – one here in Toronto, the other in Montreal. I am the spokesman for the whole country. We will soon have four employees in addition to myself.
Are there big cultural differences in one country versus another when you try to promote business with Israel?
Of course. The biggest challenge here is twofold. First of all, Canadians don’t look to Israel as a big enough market. The other challenge is that Israeli companies, when they consider coming to North America, mainly come to the United States. I’m trying to build a platform, or roadshow, to convince Israeli companies to consider coming for one or two days to Toronto or Montreal. I’m trying to get two or three delegations a year.
Another thing about doing business in Canada is that generally Canadians are conservative compared to the United States or Europe. It means it will take more time to do business and it will take much more effort to convince anybody in Canada to implement solutions or technology from Israel.
What are the main sectors in Canada you’re trying to promote to Israeli businesses?
Now we are trying to focus on life sciences and medical devices. That’s one. The other is cyber security. That can be relevant to different companies, banks being one of them. Hydro companies are another sub-sector. Any infrastructure or big companies, they need cyber solutions.
It is not physical security. It is security that has to do with information – anything to do with your computer, IT, different systems, internally and externally.
What does your office do to help Israeli companies conclude a deal?
I’m here to facilitate all companies that choose me. This office is a place where Israeli companies can get information and assistance to help them find relevant partners.
We try to initiate business delegations, together with our ministry in Israel and the Export Institute, which is affiliated with the ministry. For example, this year we decided to promote an event in Israel and succeeded in bringing representatives of seven hydro companies in different parts of Canada to a cyber tech event in Israel. We set up meetings for them with the companies and with organizations that deal with cyber issues. And now we are following up with them here.
When you talk to people about using Israeli products, companies or solutions, do you find resistance because of the political situation in Israel?
Not at all. In Canada, the government is very friendly and the people are really friendly. Companies, officials, NGOs – everybody I come in contact with – are really friendly people, and they are aware and open to consider co-operation with Israeli companies.
But doing business depends on price, on service, on quality. It depends on other things, not at all with the political situation.
You mention NGOs, but there are NGOs who advocate boycotting and withdrawing investments from Israel. Do you ever run into that?
I haven’t. Even if there is something, it is very minor, and it’s not relevant to companies or partners that we are trying to approach. All companies, all partners that we are trying to approach have nothing to do with this boycott thing.
Compared to what is going on with other countries around the world, it is very minimal.
And the anti-apartheid movement, you haven’t felt that?
We haven’t felt it, not at all. At the end of the day, we are succeeding in getting delegations from Canada to Israel.
What is the extent of the trade between Canada and Israel?
Trade is about $1 billion between the two countries – sometimes it’s $1.2 billion– but it should be much more, in my eyes. It was about $1 billion last year.
So what do you think it should be?
It’s been growing, but we should double that number, at least. But it needs a lot of awareness by Israeli companies of the Canadian market.
The Israeli companies are generally small and they have very limited resources. They have to choose which markets are most important. China is one of them. Germany is another one, maybe the U.S. Canada is smaller and that’s maybe why Israelis don’t consider Canada to be a big enough market. But it is.
You’re a Christian Arab from Israel. Do you attend Jewish functions in Toronto and talk about Israel? Is it difficult because of your background?
It’s not difficult, but I’m not a religious person, so I don’t really care about religion. I respect myself and I respect the State of Israel. The Arabs are a minority in Israel and the Christians are a minority inside the minority. We are 20 per cent of the Arab minority.
It’s very important to be part of Israel. We want to be part. We want to be part in every aspect, in representing the country abroad, and professionally and personally. I feel really part of Israel. So yes, I’m part of Israel, and I talk to people as an Israeli.
When I talk to people I make them understand that Israel is not only Jewish – 20 or 25 per cent are not Jewish.
So I’m part of this side. Maybe I’m not part of the mainstream of the Israeli society, but it is part of Israeli society, so that makes it more colourful, let’s say.
I think it even makes it interesting for people to see something different, that somebody’s who’s not Jewish is representing the State of Israel. It surprises people in a positive way. I think it’s good.
There are a few people like that, representing Israel abroad, mainly in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Do you go out to meet the Israeli Arab community in Canada?
I do. I also have relatives in Canada who left Israel in the 1970s and ’80s. I’m in touch with them. They are also proud of me that I am in this position.
Do you look at local Arab Israelis as someone who could do business with Israel?
Of course. In the last five to 10 years the State of Israel, the government has tried to create tools to help Arab companies develop technology and become part of society, part of the economy. We are 20 per cent of the population, but we contribute only eight per cent of the GDP to the general economy. That’s a pity. Israel loses out of a lot of money, a lot of jobs, a lot of opportunities around the world.
So, a lot of things are being done right now to have this group of people, the Arabs, join Israeli society. Especially having them work in good companies and develop their own companies. A lot of high-tech is being developed right now.
I believe in 10 to 15 years, we will see quite a good number of Arab companies.
Most of these companies are very small and startup companies. It will take some time for them to be a company with solutions that can be sold outside of Israel. But we are getting there.
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.