Israel Needs Entrepreneurs Like Sammy Ofer

The death of Ofer, one of the richest people in Israel, forces all of us to do some soul-searching.

The Israeli suffers from envy that drives him crazy. Nothing makes him angrier than someone who succeeds. There is nothing that affects his health more than someone who becomes very wealthy. He hates him. He wants him to fail. He attaches the unflattering label "tycoon" to him in order to hurt him, humiliate him, cut him down to size, until he falls and suffers like him.

The death of Sammy Ofer, one of the richest people in Israel, forces all of us to do some soul-searching. Only a few days ago, when the Iran oil tanker affair exploded, Ofer was labeled nothing less than a traitor who was willing to trade with the Iranians for monetary gain. Even before anyone knew what had really happened there. After all, it's such fun to spill the blood of a "tycoon."

If you ask the average Israeli how Ofer acquired his fortune, he will tell you confidently that Ofer purchased the Israel Corporation from the government for a song, and thereby became a very rich man. Because everything is corrupt. Everything is wheeling and dealing. Everything is the government-business relationship.

But the truth is that Ofer made his fortune abroad, and only afterward returned to Israel in order to invest the profits here. He became very rich thanks to an international shipping business that has nothing at all to do with Israel. He left Israel in the late 1960s and went to live in London, where he founded a shipping company that was very successful. He took great risks, took out huge loans and purchased ships during times of crisis, when everyone was afraid to buy, and was therefore well prepared in times of prosperity. Only in the 1990s did Ofer return to Israel, with his billions, and purchased the Mizrahi Bank and then the Israel Corporation.

And there is another problem with the theory. The Ofer brothers did not purchase the Israel Corporation from the government but from a totally private entity. They didn't even purchase it cheaply because, at the time, a huge Canadian corporation that dealt in phosphates tried to buy the Israel Corporation (which owns Israel Chemicals and the Dead Sea Works ), to corner the global phosphate market for itself. Idan Ofer saw a notice about that in the newspaper, and convinced his father to offer a higher price - and that is how the Ofers purchased the Israel Corporation from the Eisenbergs.

Since then 12 years have passed, and the Ofers committed the greatest crime of all: They were successful. They developed the Israel Corporation and increased its turnover from $1 billion annually to about $10 billion. Their profits also increased accordingly, in the wake of the worldwide increase in demand and in the price of phosphates - and due to better management, daring and capturing markets all over the world.

What's wrong with that? After all, we need entrepreneurs who take risks, break through boundaries, create jobs and propel the economy forward.

All that doesn't mean the Ofer family is as pure as the driven snow. That is not the case. We can and should criticize them, but they can't be turned into robber barons who only try to get an increasing number of exemptions and benefits from the government. Because first of all it isn't true, and second it's a sure way to make life miserable here for every entrepreneur, every wealthy businessman, and anyone who wants to invest, build and develop.

And let there be no mistake, the Ofer family is not alone. Every wealthy businessman is a suitable object of profound hatred. The envious people would confiscate the property of Yitzhak Tshuva because he was able to find gas. They would eliminate Lev Leviev for not going bankrupt in the 2008 crisis, but managing instead to rescue Africa-Israel. And they pray to see the day when Nochi Dankner falls.

The popular saying that the country sells its assets cheaply is untrue. The truth is that the government doesn't know how to run a business. That's why when it owns the asset - the business loses money. The government suffers from a surplus of manpower, rule by committee and amateur political management. Only the moment that it is sold to private capitalists does the business undergo a process of streamlining and modernization, and then it starts earning a profit. So its value increases, and then the envious ones say: Look, it's a fact, he bought them cheaply.

Because our envious people are the most envious people in the world.