Taking Stock / Trojan horses, Knesset style
The Knesset began to debate this week the recommendations issued by the team headed by treasury director general Joseph Bachar, including compelling the banks to sell their holdings in provident and mutual fund management companies. The first vote on the legislation implementing the Bachar reforms is scheduled for today. Last week, treasury sources said they hoped to wrap up the legislation by the end of July, adding that a majority of Knesset members support the bill.
The treasury's optimism is excessive, if only because the officials are evidently blissfully unaware of the might of the banks' ultra-secret weapons: Trojan horses planted in the Knesset.
Here is a brief guide to identifying Trojan horse Knesset members.
l The Trojan examiner horse. This is the most numerous type the banks have infiltrated into parliament. Their banking owners have told them that the name of the game is "drag the hooves." Play for time. The more time passes, the less chance there is of passing a law divesting the banks of their provident and mutual fund holdings.
The call of the Trojan examiner horse is, "I don't object to the principle of capital market reform," but then it qualifies this by neighing, "It needs careful examination, it's a very dramatic step."
The Trojan examiner horse naturally ignores the public debate about the reform, though all parties have had ample opportunity to argue their views.
The Trojan examiner horse didn't rear up and demand exhaustive debate when various resolutions costing billions passed through the Knesset in recent years. That only happens when the enormously powerful banks are on the wrong end of the whip.
l The Trojan compromising horse. This is a daring sort of beast. It doesn't whinny about "examining" the reform from head to hoof: It suggests a "compromise" with the banks. That word, compromise, sounds so reasonable, so conciliatory - why fight when there's no need?
When hundreds of thousands of pensioners had their benefits savagely slashed by 25 percent two years ago, when municipal taxes are raised year after year, when taxes are slapped onto everything but the air we breathe, when defense squanders billions each year at the expense of the taxpayer, Knesset members don't summon Yossi Citizen to appear before the Knesset Finance Committee to discuss a compromise. The need for compromise arises, it would seem, only when a reform looms that would threaten the power and prestige of a few bankers.
l The Trojan caring horse. Some of the Knesset members fronting for the banks are too skittish to line up openly beside the bankers. They bound over that hurdle easily, though, by lining up with the downtrodden workers - bringing the poor bank workers into the debate at the Knesset Finance Committee.
By the way, the Bachar reform isn't expected to harm the bank employees in any way. If anything, it will create more work and more jobs. But the new workers who will benefit from the reforms and the hundreds of thousands of customers who will also benefit as competition rears its head, have no representative on the Knesset committee.
l The Trojan political horse. He doesn't have a bad word to say about the reform. The reform is necessary and correct, but he can't support it because of the disengagement or the lack of social conscience in fiscal policy or some other object of dispute in Knesset circles. What a coup for this horse - he gets to stay faithful to the bankers who hold his reins, or at least avoid a fight with them; and he gets to demonstrate that he has principles - "reform good, circumstances, unfortunate sort of thing."
l The Trojan horse who cares about the clients. This is the most cunning creature that the Knesset Finance Committee has seen. It adopts the bankers' line by explaining that most clients want their money to stay at their bank; they don't want it to move to brokerages. But this canny Trojan horse knows that:
u The money would stay at the bank anyway, it's just the management company that would change.
u Israel's banks, like Israel's brokers, have been involved in terrible financial scandals in the last decade.
u The dominance of Israel's banks over the capital market threatens the very stability of the financial system and prevents competition from developing, which is ultimately to the detriment of the clients.
But the Trojan horse also knows perfectly well that these are complicated subjects, and he figures that if he bellows, "Let the customers decide" loud enough or, "The money must remain at the big banks," he'll drown out the public's common sense.