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ISRAEL: Vuvuzela, the horn of plenty -- and other World Cup opportunities

June 19, 2010 |  9:55 pm

Soccer

On the right side of the time zone for a change -- unlike NBA games that get only the devoutest of fans up in the dead of night -- Israelis are deep in the World Cup. TV sales are up (so were divorce rates last time), the price of beer and munchies reasonable and shopping malls are offering monthlong sales as an escape key for those uninterested in the buzz.

Re the buzz: In Israel too, the vuvuzela is king -- and plenty would gladly see it overthrown.

The first few days had electronics engineers, sound technicians and lay people texting in professional advice to radio shows with different ideas for getting rid of the droning swarm, and Israelis got a crash course in where white noise frequencies reside on the spectrum and how to filter them. We're not giving in to the vuvuzelas, announced Saadia Karavani, head of the sound division at the Israel Broadcasting Authority on the radio last week.  The noise level  at the first game came in at 147 decibels. That's like sitting on the tail of a fighter jet at takeoff, said Karavani. A day later, he said, they succeeded in de-buzzing broadcasts by 80% (the Fuhrer can stop ranting now).

Some entrepreneurs were quick to spot a trend. Two Israelis started developing this site already a year ago, reported Hebrew press. Besides a good sense of opportunity, they have a good sense of humor. "If your neighbor doesn't complain, send it back. It's no good," says the website. Actually, they are selling to the neighbors -- Egypt and Jordan, to name two. And they're turning up on Israeli streets too.

Whether it's the horn of plenty or just plenty of noise, some are using the mouthpiece as a political instrument. For months, demonstrations have been held every Friday in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in protest of a growing Jewish presence in the mostly Palestinian neighborhood. Now the vuvuzelas are joining the scrum. "We must use every tool at our disposal to attract public attention," activist Zohar Milkegrov told Israeli media, hoping the vuvuzela would raise awareness for the neighborhood's campaign like it attracted attention to the games.

While businessmen and activists try to capitalize on the novelty horn, the World Cup offers more opportunities for profit and way bigger bucks.

Many Israeli companies had their eye on a share of the World Cup security-related market, estimated at around $400-million worth of business like surveillance and monitoring equipment, biometric identification systems and so on.  In the end, Israeli companies wound up selling only around $30-50 million worth of security, including rocket-proof shields and tactical camera systems.

Currently there is some tension. South Africa recalled its ambassador for consultations over the flotilla raid. Once far tighter with Israel (Israel denied recent reports about offering nukes in the apartheid days),  South Africa is said to be putting an arm's length between it and Israel. It also trades closely with Iran.

The next play-off of diplomacy, business, soccer and politics is already kicking off, with the 2014 World Cup. The next host, Brazil, had started shopping around Israeli know-how in February, when a delegation including the country's defense minister visited the Israeli army to study emergency preparedness and rescue and recovery.  The countries are said to be cooperating also with the 2016 Olympics in mind too. Israel has its eye on the fast-developing economy of Brazil, an attractive market in many fields, including homeland security.

Brazil too is tightening up with Iran, and its recent uranium swap deal with Turkey and Iran left Israel rather unimpressed (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it an "obvious deception"), especially after Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva's "historic visit" in March.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem.

Top: Guys watching a midday match in the village of Abu-Gosh, west of Jerusalem. Batsheva Sobelman/Los Angeles Times.

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