Taking Stock/ Hello Ariel Atias - a neophyte with a great starting point
They say he likes suits more expensive than Versace's, but he claims he has only had two suits in his entire life. He still drives an ancient Skoda because the Volvo they offer brand-new ministers seems too ostentatious. He's 35 years old and his last job was general manager of the Beit Yosef rabbinic court. When the Shas council of sages decided to nominate him as a minister, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef summoned him and warned him to "adhere to the law in all things."
We may assume that Israel's tycoons and media moguls assiduously read Shahar Ilan's profile of Atias in Haaretz (in Hebrew) yesterday. They probably needed the information: Until a month ago nobody had ever heard of the man.
Since Atias is new to the media and business spheres, we would like to offer him some ideas.
Mr. Atias, even though you are a complete tyro on communication matters, you have a great starting point. Since Limor Livnat, communication ministers have been one of two types: those frozen into inaction by the tycoons and the powerful Bezeq union, and those busy groveling before the media barons. You could be the first to focus his attention on consumers.
b The bread subsidy makes headlines, but bread is a mere iota of what citizens consume. Even among the very poor, communication services are eating up more and more of households' disposable income. The war over bread prices is sexy, but attacking the prices the cellular operators charge would contribute far more to the people Shas says it wants to help.
b Tell the Apax-Saban group that appointing Dov Weissglas to chair Bezeq at a cost of NIS 3 million a year - even though he has zero experience in managing giant companies - is a waste of their money. The group thinks Weissglas can wield influence over the prime minister's bureau and various ministries, and can deflect inconvenient regulation. Preempt them: Tell them you won't meet with Weissglas as long as he's buddy-buddy with the Prime Minister's Office and the ministers. You'll only meet with professionals.
b Summon Stella Handler, the CEO of Golden Lines, and tell her you're giving her permission to compete with Bezeq in the domestic communications market, using voice over Internet technology (you know what that is by now, right? If not, this is the time to learn). A license for Golden Lines has been held up indefinitely for no obvious reason, other than the desire of previous communications ministers to avoid a confrontation with Bezeq.
All three of Israel's big communications companies have very dominant owners with powerful government ties. Cellcom has Nochi Dankner, Bezeq has Haim Saban. Golden Lines has Eliezer Fishman, but right now he's vacationing in Turkey.
b Wave goodbye to Communications Ministry Director General Avi Balashnikov and thank your lucky stars that he decided to relieve you of one decision before you even sat down. He is a bureaucrat who excelled mainly at hopping from one minister to another but never managed to consolidate a clear strategy for the communications sector. His main strategy was to delay, delay and then delay some more, in order to avoid clashing with the rich and powerful media barons. Go find yourself an expert who wants to leave his mark on the market, and who is not fixated on his next job with the people he's supposed to be supervising.
b Remember that the biggest achievement you can mark up as communications minister is abolishing the Communications Ministry entirely. It should be replaced by an apolitical authority, which is how things are run in the normal world. The government resolved to abolish it more than two years ago - but then Ehud Olmert took over the ministry, and he was not one to forgo the power that the portfolio gave him in the business world. He shelved the idea and it fell off the agenda. Ariel Atias, put it back. And if you do, you will go down in history as Israel's first minister to place public interest before personal interest.