Yitzhak Tshuva and Shari Arison
Shari Arison and Yitzhak Tshuva. Photo by David Bachar and Ofer Vaknin
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The phrase "Rashei Hameshek," literally "heads of the economy" in Hebrew, is a phrase that resonates power and influence, and refers to the country's economic leadership. It resonates so well that Noga Keinan decided to use the name as the moniker of a forum of people with money. The Rashei Hameshek forum of about 150 business leaders includes company owners, CEOs and corporate board chairmen of companies with an annual turnover of more than $200 million.

The membership includes Yair Shamir, Elad Tshuva, David Azrieli, Zadik Bino and Shari Arison. The forum's directorate includes high-powered figures in the economy such as Yitzhak Tshuva, Erez Vigodman and Zeev Vurembrand, and the group is advised by the likes of Eli Hurvitz, Izzy Borovich, Tali Yaron-Eldar, Ram Caspi and - Keinan. Keinan is also chairwoman of the Israeli Forum of Chief Financial Officers.

The organization appears to be an outstanding example of close links between those with the money and those with government ties. An investigation by TheMarker has revealed that over the past year, the forum has met with senior politicians, although who represented the forum when they met is not known. Seven months ago, for example, the forum met at Ashdod Port with Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud ) and the chairman of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, Ofir Akunis (Likud ). Akunis said yesterday that the meeting dealt with port reform.

The forum also met several months ago with Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov (Yisrael Beiteinu ). Keinan hosted a meeting for the forum's leadership at her home with Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser. A similar meeting was held with the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Eyal Gabai. The meetings provide a vehicle through which the forum's members' concerns can be conveyed to the prime minister, and the group's leadership also met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directly about a year ago.

Among the issues of current concern to the group are proposed limits on senior executive pay, which they oppose. They also know the justice minster well. An official announcement in 2008 from the group noted that Yaakov Neeman, who is now justice minister, was an adviser to the group at the time. And, it so happens, Neeman is the chairman of the committee examining senior executive pay. The committee heard the objections to the proposed limits from representatives of the forum on Sunday.

Keinan confirmed yesterday that Neeman was an adviser and member of the directorate of the forum until his appointment as justice minister "and [we] await his return at the end of his term [as minister]."

Neeman yesterday denied his connection to the group, however: "I didn't serve as an adviser to the forum. However, at the beginning of the ministerial committee yesterday [Sunday] I announced that I know the forum."

The forum acts to influence decision-makers, government ministers and Knesset members. With that goal in mind, about three months ago the forum appointed Nili Reichman, formerly spokeswoman for the Likud party, as its spokeswoman and liaison to the government. Reichman has left her job with the Likud, and it is expected that in her new job, she will lobby decision-makers in the Knesset and the government.

The forum has been engaged in an effort to oppose legislation proposed by Shelly Yachimovich (Labor ) and Haim Katz (Likud ) which would limit wage levels at public companies. Members of the forum met to develop a position paper on the matter and among those participating were the chairman of the First International Bank (Beinleumi ), Jack Elad; Mizrahi-Tefahot chairman Jacob Perry; former tax commissioner Yaron-Eldar and Chaim Katzman from Gazit Globe, among others. The draft was then provided to the forum's 150 members.

The forum is supported by membership dues, which are $950 a year. If a company is represented by more than one member, fees can run as high as $1,500. There are also companies that provide sponsorship of the group. These are generally firms that would like other forum members as their own customers. Sponsorship rates are not disclosed publicly.

The forum was founded in 2006, at Keinan's initiative, in an effort to create a group that would influence decision-making affecting the economy. "We said that in Israel there was no entity bringing together the senior executives and company owners in the economy to provide a general, rather than sectoral look at the management of the economy," Keinan said yesterday. "All of this is with the goal to improve performance with respect to the business environment and government activity."

An official publication of the forum was less modest, calling itself "the engine of the Israeli economy, the power moving the economy to success." The forum has also said that its "vision is to bring about the long-term success and prosperity of the Israeli economy."