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Fighting words were exchanged during a debate at the Knesset Economics Committee yesterday on a bill to curb economic concentration. "There are families that control the economy, the media - and MKs," said Amnon Cohen (Shas ). "MKs can't take action because they're afraid of these families."

The private-member bill was put forward by Cohen himself, with the aim of strengthening the Antitrust Authority and shackling the "families."

Committee chairman Ofer Akunis remarked that the "tycoons and their agents" wield terrific power in the Knesset. "MKs shouldn't be afraid of the families," he said. He gave the example of the mobile service companies, which have been putting pressure on the parliamentarians to oppose interconnect fees. "Yet despite the pressure, we announced at the start of May that the Economics Committee supports the Communications Ministry," he said.

Cohen's bill is in fact identical to a cabinet bill that had been written by the Antitrust Authority. The bill empowers it to declare any small group of people controlling more than 50% of the market in a given branch as a "concentration group." Once so defined, the watchdog could take competition-promoting steps such as ordering the group to sell certain holdings.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is scheduled to discuss Cohen's bill on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Economics Committee yesterday accepted Cohen's proposal that if the cabinet doesn't approve its own bill on concentration groups by October, the Economics Committee will approve his (identical ) bill for enactment into law. Cohen estimates that his bill, or the cabinet's one for that matter, would win by a landslide.