Israel Risks Becoming an Oligarchy

A day after a State Comptroller panel on wealth and power issues its report, committee member Eldad Yaniv says action must be taken.

"There is a layer of rich families in Israel who have turned into oligarchs, and they are on the way to turning the country into an oligarchy," said Eldad Yaniv, a member of the committee on the relationship between wealth and power in Israel, which presented its recommendations to outgoing State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on Sunday.

These rich families, Yaniv said, make up "a thin layer that controls power, wealth, resources and government."

Yaniv, an attorney and journalist, author of the political manifesto "The New Zionist Left" and a deeply disenchanted former adviser to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, spoke to TheMarker yesterday.

"Mayors see that the connections between these families and senior politicians have become routine. These relationships have become stronger. The oligarchs have influence within local authorities, in the [local] planning and building committees, and there they are being enriched no less than in the privatization of natural resources," he said.

The committee's recommendations to Lindenstrauss will be passed on to his successor, Judge Yosef Shapira.

Among the committee's recommendations were increasing government transparency, revising rules on cooling-off periods for former government officials, and further restrictions on lobbyists. For example, the committee recommended requiring full documentation of any meeting between government officials and various wealthy, interested parties; requiring elected and senior officials to file annual declarations of their assets.

In addition, the committee wants to establish a body to supervise the activities of lobbyists, and require Knesset members to publish on the Knesset website any materials they receive from lobbyists.

"The wealthy in Israel preserve their economic power and strengthen it through political and governmental means," the committee's report stated. It also recommended that the comptroller order a number of immediate steps until the committee's recommendations can be passed into law.

Yaniv said the purpose of the recommendations was "to create transparency here and deal with the matter [of wealth and power] - which is a danger to Israeli democracy." The committee understands that the entire report could be simply filed away by Shapira, he said, adding: "The responsibility for implementing the report is on his shoulders."

The committee was established at the beginning of 2010 by Lindenstrauss.Many of the proposed new regulations would have to be passed by the Knesset, whose elected members would be affected by them. "The 19th Knesset will be different," said Yaniv. "There will be young MKs and I think the report will be adopted by the next Knesset.

"The members of the 18th Knesset will certainly not pass the report, with Nochi Dankner, Shari Arison, Yitzhak Tshuva and others feeding off of them," he added.

Hope for change will have to come from the leaders of the social protest movements, who will fight the present system, he said: "They will not be connected to the tycoons and the rich, and they truly want to save democracy." Other recommendations made by the committee include having lawmakers and officials release their daily schedules; increased protections for whistle-blowers; and stricter reporting of donations, even outside of election campaigns.