As Haaretz's daily business newspaper TheMarker was totting up its list of the local superrich, things suddenly changed: Days after his visa to Britain hit a bump, raising doubts about him being able to return to his London home, Russian-Jewish oligarch Roman Abramovich made a speedy aliyah - and instantly became the wealthiest Israeli.
Abramovich, 51, who is best-known for owning English soccer club Chelsea, is estimated to be worth $12 billion, according to Forbes. He is joining the Israeli billionaires' exclusive club, which now boasts 106 members - each worth on average $1.07 billion.
The last year was an OK one for Israel’s richest. Their wealth increased by 7% in the last 12 months, less than the global average. In dollar terms, the wealth of the top 500 richest Israelis increased to $172 billion. (It would have been more if the French-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi hadn’t suffered such a financial setback.) Not too bad for such a small population.
While their income didn’t increase by double digits, memories of the social protests of 2011 have long faded away. Straight after those dramatic demonstrations, ostentation went out of style. But now it’s back, and so are cars costing over a million shekels on the streets of Tel Aviv.
And even though housing prices in Israel have steadied, the Tel Aviv luxury market is still boiling hot. Another positive development at the top: the number of female billionaires in the country rose 18% in 2017 (12% of the total) versus 14.5% rise for males.
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Inequality is a hot topic everywhere, but Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon hasn’t mentioned ideas of raising taxes on the rich or, heaven forbid, taxing estates. If anything, Israel’s rich are pressing for Trump-style tax cuts. Technically, what they want is tax cuts for companies - based on the argument that, otherwise, companies will decamp from Israel to the United States, or to countries with more convenient tax regimes.
Mobility among the superrich is generational: Dividing the wealth among heirs, as well as things like wars and revolutions (sometimes among the heirs themselves), has been the mechanism preventing the superrich from accruing every last penny in the land.
Another reason is that the generation of heirs tends to be less driven to excel in business than the person who actually made the fortune. However, dividing the wealth of Israel’s 500 richest among, say, 1,500 heirs does not change the frightening picture of Israel’s economic gaps.
Despite a slight decline in recent years in the Gini indices that measure income inequality, Israel still suffers from huge inequality in assets; miserable mobility for minorities and people living in the outlying, poorer areas; and concentration in business. Israel has dozens of monopolies, official and not.
Given that Israel is likely to be encouraged to tolerate ties between business and government thanks to the Trump administration, Israel’s 1% is likely to continue growing more distant from everybody else. And to flaunt it. Well, at least until the next protest.
Sources: TheMarker's list of the richest people in Israel features Israelis with the highest net asset worth, as far as is known. That worth is calculated based on the total sum of assets owned by a person, family or group – to the best available knowledge and assessment of the editorial staff.
Assets examined include shareholdings in companies (public and private) and various businesses, stocks, real estate and cash.
The net asset worth is based up to April 1, 2018 and is calculated on a currency rate of 3.5 shekels to the dollar.
To compile the list, TheMarker used the following information sources: Publicly available data, TheMarker website, archives, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange website, Bloomberg, CofaceBDI website, the Registrar of Companies, public relations firms, and interviews with sources and close associates of those ranked. When TheMarker lacked credible information regarding wealth assessment, it did not include that person on the list.