New Coalition Deal Raises Fears of Attempt to Politicize Antitrust

The post of antitrust commissioner is one of the most powerful in the government.

The coalition agreement with Ehud Barak's new breakaway party Atzmaut has raised concerns that the prime minister wants a political ally appointed as the country's next antitrust commissioner.

The post is one of the most powerful in the government, and current commissioner Ronit Kan is stepping down next month.

Generally, the Industry and Trade Ministry appoints a committee to select several candidates for the post. The industry and trade minister then picks a candidate from the list, and the cabinet approves the choice.

But the coalition agreement between Atzmaut and Likud states that the candidate will be picked by the industry and trade minister and the prime minister. This has raised concerns that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be trying to politicize what is supposed to be a professional post. The worry is that Netanyahu would be swayed by the interests of big business instead of increasing competition in the economy.

It also has raised speculation about which businessmen and their lawyers are attempting to influence the process.

The Prime Minister's Bureau did not respond to a request for comment.

The Movement for Quality Government also raised questions about the unusual agreement over the weekend.

Government sources say the Prime Minister's Bureau has expressed interest in the appointment process ever since Kan announced she was stepping down. This does not usually happen.

The committee, led by Industry and Trade Ministry Director General Sharon Kedmi, has already been appointed. But the slot designated for a former antitrust tribunal head is empty because no one is willing to take it. So the ministry asked the civil service commissioner for permission to choose a district court judge or a antitrust tribunal member instead.

The commissioner gave his approval and the industry and trade minister was supposed to submit the change to the cabinet for approval today. This was delayed, however, when minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer left the government after Barak split the Labor Party.

Now, the new industry and trade minister, Shalom Simhon, is expected to present the change to the cabinet next Sunday. Simhon denied that the process was being politicized and said he wouldn't interfere with the committee's work.

As part of the review process, the committee checks whether candidates have political connections to the industry and trade minister. The committee generally gives the minister three potential candidates, and the minister chooses one. The cabinet generally accepts the minister's choice without demanding changes.

As one of the most important roles in the economy, antitrust commissioner is considered a very desirable job, even if candidates don't meet all the requirements.

People considered front-runners include Antitrust Authority chief legal counsel Boaz Golan, Industry and Trade Ministry director general for foreign trade Boaz Hirsch, antitrust expert Maher Dabbah, and Communications Ministry economist Assaf Cohen.