The envelope that arrived three weeks ago for Israel's commercial attache in Thailand, Miri Parnes-Meir, contained no surprises. It contained hundreds of glossy catalogs from an Israeli agricultural equipment company that wanted to exhibit its wares at an agricultural trade show in Bangkok.
Unfortunately, the company hadn't bothered to translate the Hebrew catalogs into Thai.
It wasn't the first time Parnes-Meir has received catalogs in Hebrew for distribution in Thailand and Vietnam.
Hundreds of Israeli companies have discovered that Asia, home to a third of the world's population, is the only growth market left. What's more, it still welcomes Israeli companies with open arms.
But too many Israeli firms have a stereotyped attitude toward Asia. That superior attitude is costing them sorely needed opportunities as the United States and Europe hunker down in recession.
In May, just a few days after the IDF withdrew from Jenin, a government investment agency in Singapore held a conference on investing in Israeli companies and venture capital funds. Asian investors at the conference said they were still looking for companies to invest in. Despite the global economic crisis, they were still considering investments in Israeli venture capital funds.
These were not empty words. In the last two years, Singapore institutions have invested $400 million in the Israeli hi-tech industry - at a time when investors in Europe and the United States have significantly cut back investment in Israel.
However, along with the enthusiasm in Singapore and other Asian countries, there is disappointment. "The number of Israeli companies that have made Singapore their Asian base is less than we expected, and this will definitely affect our investments in the future," said a senior executive at the Singapore government investment agency.
Of course Asia has many faces. The needs of investors and clients in China are different from those in Taiwan, Vietnam and Korea. The growing weight of Asian economies makes it clear that Israeli hi-tech industries - mainly export oriented - cannot ignore the East.
Until a year and a half ago, Israeli companies more or less ignored the Far East, preferring to focus their marketing and fund raising efforts on the U.S. and Europe, even though the growth potential there is significantly smaller than in Asia. Now, with the economic crisis in the industrialized countries and an unofficial boycott of Israel by many companies in Europe, Israeli companies may be pushed into a market they should have targeted some time ago.
The Chinese market, for example, is now the largest in the world for Internet and cellular technologies. About two hundred Israeli companies operate in China - most of them set up shop in the last year-and-a-half. In Thailand and Vietnam, these markets are just beginning to open up.
With the West in recession, now is the time for Israeli industry to entrench itself in the East. But before it can do so, it needs to rid itself of its sense of superiority, to try to understand the culture and needs of potential clients and investors - and to disseminate its material in something other than Hebrew.