Three Israelis With a Lot to Atone For

On the eve of Yom Kippur, let's give discredit where it's due to the people who have cost the state billions of shekels.

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Former Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo.
Former Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

Yom Kippur presents a major dilemma for some people, because they need to seek forgiveness from Israel’s citizens for the serious damage they’ve caused. And since we’re talking about billions of shekels, possibly even hundreds of billions, it’s not certain that their requests will be accepted.

First and foremost is former Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo, who with his own hands has left the natural gas in the Leviathan offshore field buried deep beneath the Mediterranean. People should know that, despite all the lies, propaganda and foreign interests, the natural gas framework agreement – between the state and Delek Group and Noble Energy, the companies who own the Leviathan and Tamar fields – is a good deal overall, with reasonable prices. Just ask Prof. Eytan Sheshinski, the biggest expert on the energy industry; or Prof. Eugene Kandel, chairman of the National Economic Council; or Amir Levy, the Finance Ministry’s budgets director.

Gilo is the one who fell asleep on guard and didn’t deal with the matter in time. Way too late, he announced he would issue an “agreed order” forcing Delek and Noble Energy to sell the smaller Tanin and Karish offshore fields, but would leave the two larger fields (Tamar and Leviathan) in their hands. But then Gilo started receiving criticism from all corners and, because he didn’t have a strong enough backbone, performed an impressive backward somersault and abandoned the order he was about to issue. Instead, he adopted an extreme position of complete opposition to the natural gas framework, even though said framework is much better than the order he was about to issue.

This is how, overnight, Gilo became the darling of the populist media. Then he resigned but, contrary to all norms, didn’t leave his post immediately. Instead, he hung around for another three months while causing the Israeli economy enormous damage: Hundreds of millions of shekels for every month’s delay in bringing natural gas out of the ground at Leviathan, and hundreds of billions of shekels if the field is never ultimately developed.

Right after Gilo on the black list is Economy Minister Arye Dery. Over the past three months, he made so many turns that he made everyone dizzy. During a cabinet session, he surprised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he refused to assume the authority of the antitrust commissioner - even though he had promised to do so. After that, he changed his mind and promised Netanyahu that if a few changes were made in the gas framework, he would allow it to be accepted. The changes were made, but Dery still didn’t sign.

Economy Minister Arye Dery.Credit: Yanai Yechiel

Next he told us, “I don’t run away from responsibility. I will sign, even though for sure there will be public criticism.” But surrendering to populist criticism was more important to him, so again he didn’t sign. He voted in favor of the framework in both the cabinet and the Knesset, and said it was a good framework. But still he refused to assume authority. What’s really important to him is only his image among the populists, not the good of the economy or the country’s outlying areas.

The third person who must plead forgiveness is MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union). All along she opposed taking the natural gas out of the ground; demanded an unrealistic price for it; wanted taxation rates through the ceiling; and also called for a ban on exporting it - so that any business running the field would be unprofitable. Recently, she said we must leave the natural gas deep under the sea, and in doing so exposed her true motives: Causing serious harm to industry, canceling billions of shekels of investments, lowering economic growth, increasing unemployment, and lowering tax revenues. As the quote attributed to Lenin goes, the worse the better.

MK Shelly Yacimovich.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

In sharp contrast, it’s worth commending one politician who was not afraid of the populists. He dived deep into the heart of the matter when he entered his new post, and through the everyday nitty-gritty work, succeeded in bringing the natural gas framework to completion: Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. And yes, I know the worst thing a journalist can do is say something good about someone. The unkind words are far easier to forgive.

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