Prominent Lawyer Michal Halperin Named Israel's New Antitrust Chief

Halperin has been involved in competition issues as a regulator and attorney for business, hints at shift of focus from consumer prices to market share in bid to promote competition.

Michal Halperin
Tomer Appelbaum

Michal Halperin, an attorney who has worked in government and for business, was named Wednesday to head Israel’s Antitrust Authority at a time when the unit is recovering from the controversy over the gas industry and faces a full load of cases.

Halperin, who was appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has also been serving as economy minister, will take over as the authority wrestles with Cellcom Israel’s request to acquire Golan Telecom and the sale of the ailing Mega supermarket chain. She will also be dealing with a government plan to separate credit card companies from banks, as well as legislation permitting parallel imports and new rules regarding pricing by monopoly companies.

Halperin will also be in the public eye more than her predecessors amid heightened concerns about the high cost of living and business concentration. Her predecessor, David Gilo, resigned last year after he opposed Netanyahu’s plan to allow Noble Energy and Delek Group to retain their lock hold over natural gas.

On Wednesday, Gilo praised Halperin, despite her being the prime minister’s choice, as well as the other candidate a government search committee had recommended, Uri Schwartz, who stepped in as acting commissioner after Gilo left. “The two candidates were both very appropriate, each with his or her own strengths. I’m confident Michal will use her many abilities to succeed in the post,” he said.

Halperin worked for the authority from 2002 until 2006 as deputy commissioner and legal adviser. Since 2007, she has been a partner in Israeli law firm Meitar Liquornik Geva Leshem Tal and headed its antitrust and competition group.

Her stint as an attorney representing the business sector means she will have to recuse herself from issues involving the food industry and perhaps other areas as well (a final list of areas is still being prepared). In her place, the authority’s chief economist Asaf Eilat will make decisions.

This means Halperin will not be involved in the sale of the Mega supermarket chain, which is now being conducted by a court-appointed receiver, or in one of the authority’s flagship cases against Tnuva for violating an order over relations between food makers and retailers.

Halperin has indicated in remarks over recent months that she is inclined toward making a strategic shift at the authority, away from concerns about consumer prices as the test for competition and focus more on the issue of market share. She has also faulted the authority for devoting too much time to imposing penalties for violations.

“The authority wants to increase compliance. The message of the authority in a case of violation will be financial sanctions. But is this the goal? The goal is first and foremost to promote competition,” she told a recent conference at Tel Aviv University,

Benjamin Rotenberg, a partner at the law firm Ron Gazit, Rotenberg & Company, agreed that Halperin should work to focus the authority on competition after widening its mandate in recent years. “It shouldn’t be dealing with measuring shelf space at supermarket chains,” he said.