Yair Lapid's Strongman Doesn't Get Economics

High-tech entrepreneur Hillel Kobrinsky will be the power behind Yair Lapid's finance minister throne. He may have been a key player in Yesh Atid's campaign, but with his little knowledge of economics, is he the right man for this job?

Meirav Arlosoroff
Meirav Arlosoroff
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Meirav Arlosoroff
Meirav Arlosoroff

Yesh Atid secretary general Hillel Kobrinsky is likely to become the "dominant force in the Finance Ministry" due to his "strong influence" on party chairman and prospective Finance Minister Yair Lapid, according to a Yesh Atid source.

"Hillel will be the one who really manages matters," the source said, adding that Kobrinsky, who is likely to become the next treasury director general if Lapid takes over the finance portfolio, "doesn't understand a lot about macro-economic issues, but I'm sure he understands more than Lapid."

Together with television producer Danny Vesely, Kobrinsky is one of the party's two most dominant personalities - and the one who is closest with Lapid.

Kobrinsky and Lapid first met five years ago and became quick friends. It was actually Kobrinsky who two years ago asked Lapid to lead a new political party, back when Lapid was still a television personality. Kobrinsky prepared Lapid's political platform, organized the party and interviewed candidates for its list.

Kobrinsky has been at Lapid's side ever since Lapid declared his entry into politics. He ran the party headquarters and set up its 103 branches, staffed by 15,000 volunteers. After the elections, Kobrinsky has led Yesh Atid's team in coalition talks.

Kobrinsky worked in politics previously, serving as one of the key activists when Ehud Barak ran for prime minister in 1999. In 2008, he ran the campaign headquarters of Moshik Lipetz, who was elected to the Savyon Local Council.

But Kobrinsky's professional background is in high-tech. In 1994, he teamed up with entrepreneur Frank Zvi to form the Internet conferencing company Interwise, which was sold 13 years later to AT&T for $121 million. Today, Kobrinsky serves as the company's operations director in Israel.

In the army, Kobrinsky rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and in the reserves was promoted to brigadier general, specializing in mobile computers. Among his army buddies are Moshe Kaplinsky, who is now the CEO of the Nesher cement monopoly and whom Kobrinsky tried unsuccessfully to recruit for the Yesh Atid list.

Kobrinsky is also buddy-buddy with tycoons and bankers. Nir Bronstein, formerly CEO of Poalim Capital Markets, a unit of Bank Hapoalim, is considered one of his closest friends. Bronstein, in turn, is close to Danny Danker, the bank's former chairman.

Kobrinsky is also a friend of Ronit Fishman-Ophir, daughter of entrepreneur and investor Eliezer Fishman; and Iri Shahar, CEO of Fishman Network, Fishman's marketing arm. Both were at Kobrinsky's 50th birthday celebration last summer.

Kobrinsky has dismissed concerns that any connections to the army and the rich will influence his positions on issues such as defense spending and capital market reform. In an article published in Markerweek about a month ago, he said, "I support a reduction in defense spending. ... There's a lot to cut there. But it doesn't make a difference because I have no status in the party, and it will make decisions without me," he wrote.

"I also don't have any connection with the tycoons. I don't know a single one of them. Fishman's daughter I know through her husband. Iri Shahar's wife is a good friend of my wife's. Yes, Nir Bronstein is my very good friend and I'm happy about that."

In addition to his role as CEO of AT&T Israel, Kobrinsky is also a partner or owner of 13 different companies overseas. At least two deal in securities trading by use of advanced algorithms.

Kobrinsky's wife, Orly Ben-Zvi-Kobrinsky, worked until about a year and a half ago as a manager at AT&T, where she met her husband, but she left after AT&T raised concerns about the couple working for the same company. Her family owns Orshar Bonded Warehouses, a warehouse and shipping company. Ben-Zvi-Kobrinsky was also active in the Yesh Atid campaign and was No. 88 on the party's Knesset list. She also directed some of the party's conferences and has been seen in the Knesset in the presence of MK Yael German, a possible candidate for a cabinet post, probably interior minister.

A spokesman for German said Ben-Zvi-Kobrinsky currently has no official position in German's office but did not reject out of hand the possibility that that could change. "I don't know if she is going to have an official position with German," the spokesman said.

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