Panel Puts Forward Two Candidates for Israel's Antitrust Chief

Both hopefuls have worked at Antitrust Authority; decision rests with Netanyahu in his role as economy minister.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, December 14, 2015.
Olivieh Fitoussi

The search committee for the appointment of a new antitrust commissioner has narrowed the field down to two candidates. The choice will be made by Benjamin Netanyahu, who is temporarily serving as economy minister with authority over the commission.

The candidates are Uri Schwartz – who was legal adviser to the authority until September, when he replaced David Gilo as acting commissioner – and Michal Halperin, who was the authority’s legal adviser until a decade ago when she went into private practice representing companies in mergers and acquisitions.

The choice comes at a critical time for the Antitrust Authority, which suffered a major setback this year when Gilo’s decision to rescind a decree for the natural gas industry was overruled by Netanyahu. Gilo then resigned.

While the gas issue is over, unless the High Court of Justice disallows the waiver Netanyahu signed last week, Gilo’s successor will face critical questions about a proposed takeover of Golan Telecom by Cellcom Israel and its impact on the mobile telephony market, and the sale of supermarkets by the ailing Mega chain. A government committee’s recommendations on consumer-lending reform, forcing the two big banks to sell their credit card units, will add another critical challenge.

Netanyahu may reject both candidates, who were selected by a search committee headed by Amit Lang, the director general of the Economy Ministry, although observers say the chances of this happening are slim.

Halperin has worked on both sides of the antitrust issue, working first as a government lawyer and, over the last 10 years, as an attorney in the law firm Meitar Liquornik Geva Leshem Tal, where she represented Shva, the bank-owned clearing monopoly for automated teller machines, as well as El Al Airlines, the Tnuva dairy and food importer Neto.

While that means she has knowledge of the legal tactics antitrust attorneys use to defend clients, it would also mean she has to recuse herself from many cases for her first year or two as commissioner. However, Halperin has not represented any of the cellular operators.

Schwartz’s educational credentials are considered stronger because, unlike Halperin, he has training in both law and economics, both of which are essential for developing antitrust policy.