Analysis

Ehud Barak Will Keep Cannabis Jobs Despite Running for PM

Former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is also eyeing a career in cannabis - a move that's increasingly logical

Ehud Barak at the Haaretz Democracy Conference, June 17, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

The Knesset’s legal adviser published an opinion that had many of the new Knesset members breathing a sign of relief. MKs who were elected in April have no guarantee that they’ll still be in the Knesset after the September election, so given this unusual situation, they’re not required to leave their jobs.

On Wednesday, former prime minister Ehud Barak announced that he was returning to politics with a new political party. He, too, knows that he’s entering a rather fluid field – and he’s also aware of the material potential of his current post in Israel’s cannabis industry. Barak stated that despite his return to politics, he’ll continue serving as chairman of publicly-traded company Intercure and of privately-traded Canndoc, which is due to be launched on Nasdaq soon.

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Barak’s new party includes billionaire businessman Kobi Richter and law professor Yifat Biton, a social activist and feminist legal criticism. During the last election, Biton was a member of Orli Levi-Abekasis’ list.

Intercure is currently trading at a valuation of more than 800 million shekels, after losing a third of its market cap over the previous three months. Its value is based primarily on its holdings in Canndoc, which last year had revenues of only $2 million.

Former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is also thinking of making cannabis her next career move. On Monday, she was spotted at a Herzliya restaurant with businessman Barak Rozen. Shaked’s fate is currently hanging in the air – she still doesn’t know with which party she’s going to run in the September election. Thus, her talks with Rozen – a month ago, he offered that she serve as chairwoman of Cannbit, a medical marijuana manufacturer and distributor. Rozen made the offer while he was trying to take over the company with his business partner Asi Tuchmeyer.

Their acquisition was blocked after the Health Ministry’s unit for medical marijuana told Rozen he wasn’t permitted to become the company’s controlling shareholder. Before granting such permits, the Health Ministry checks the applicant to make sure he or she doesn’t have a criminal record, a record of bankruptcy or mental health challenges. Checks are conducted in consultation with the police.

Rozen didn’t pass the test, and was forced to buy Cannbit in a roundabout way. He took control of the company through a third party whom he granted a loan to buy the company’s shares. Thus, he controls Cannbit while not serving on the company’s board, a position that requires Health Ministry approval.

If Shaked is considering a post at a cannabis company, that’s understandable. Over the past few days, Israel’s political scene has become particularly embarrassing, and it may be better not to be part of it. Yuli Edelstein, Moshe Kahlon and the other coalition members all embarrassed themselves when they told the media that they supported Benjamin Netanyahu’s initiative to cancel the September elections, for which they had previously voted. A month ago, Netanyahu failed to find 61 Knesset members to form a coalition that would back him as prime minister. Someone else would have had the right to form a coalition in his place - so instead, he called to disband the Knesset. Now he’s regretting it.

Netanyahu’s afraid that his old trick of calling on the public the day before election day to go vote because “the right-wing regime is in danger” may not work. Israelis have had enough. They won’t buy this for the second time in five months. They’ll ask themselves, “if the regime is in danger, why did you drag us into elections again?”

Suddenly the 35 Knesset seats that Netanyahu won with Likud seem like an accomplishment that will be hard to repeat. He wants another chance to manipulate Knesset members. Maybe this time Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid will agree to form a unity government led by a man facing an indictment. Maybe this time he’ll find one member of Kahol Lavan who agrees to break rank in exchange for a ministry portfolio. Maybe this time the ultra-Orthodox parties will give in. When the political system is led by a man motivated only by his personal wellbeing and not by any ideology or principles, it’s natural that he think that the people around him work the same way.