Nepotism? Making Buckets Off Public Funds? It's All Part of the Israeli System

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So Alon Hassan's been caught.

Every businessman, reporter, politician and even the head of an NGO that I ran into last week had nothing but fulsome praise for Haaretz for getting rid of Alon Hassan.

His undoing began with a series of articles by reporter Sharon Shpurer, escalated to Channel 2 prime-time news, turned into an opportunity for politicians and has, for the nonce, ended with the ouster of Hassan as union head at Ashdod Port.

But between us, what do people want from Alon Hassan? What did he do wrong? He made a fortune providing services by his private companies to Ashdod Port, paid for by public money. So? Thousands of people do that in Israel. Nepotism – that's also endemic. Israel has whole industries, not least the local governments, manned by relatives of incumbents. Show me a monopoly where that doesn't happen.

Alon Hassan, you argue, was ostentatious and crass, glorying in his misapplied clout. But remember all those politicians and businessmen dancing the night away when the kids of tycoons Yitzhak Tshuva and Nochi Dankner got married?

Note, for instance, who is one of the biggest clients of Ashdod Port: the Zim shipping company. In practice it's been bankrupt for a long time now, thanks to the excellent management of the people who brought us Better Place. This week Zim "offered" Israel's pension managers an arrangement, since there's no way on God's green earth that it can repay its loans. So, it suggested, take us instead. Take the company.

Great offer, guys. But if I were a big investor in Zim, first I'd ask the board a piddling little thing – first repay us the $820 million cash Zim paid nine years ago to buy ships from its very own owners, the Ofer family.

From time to time some politician or newspaper whips out a Hassan, or a Zim, or a city council or some other character caught doing something rotten. But none of this is worth the paper the indictments are written on unless somebody stands up and screams: It's the system.

Hassans are everywhere in Israel's public service and in the monopolies, in the business sector and in regulation too. Half the people who sat on the famous Economic Concentration Committee now have sweetheart jobs with the tycoons.

Last week I ran into a senior former regulator. Now he's in business. He means to compete with a powerful monopoly. Three years ago he was in a tremendously powerful position and could have revolutionized the very market in which he's trying to operate. Now for the first time he realizes how the system works and he's mad as hell.

But nobody wants to take on the system. They just want to catch a fat Hassan. That's enough.

A truck at the Ashdod Port.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Nochi Danker, left, and Alon Hassan. Only the little fish get caught.Credit: Ofer Vaknin, Ilya Melnikov

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