My Well-off Brethren, You Must Act Now

The big money in Israel is with big capital, which is doing great things but contributing too little to the general good.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

Last week Teva Pharmaceutical Industries’ tax payments were finally disclosed. On its Israeli operations, Teva paid 20.3 percent tax in 2003, 7.4 percent in 2008 and 0.3 percent in 2012. On last year’s pretax profit of $1.6 billion, Teva paid only $5 million. Out of every NIS 1,000 the flagship company of Israeli patriotism earned, only NIS 3 reached the state coffers.

Where is the money? The ultra-Orthodox don’t have it. Neither does organized labor or small business. The middle class doesn’t have it either. The big money in Israel is with big capital, which is doing great things but contributing too little to the general good.

In recent years Israel’s business community has complained a lot about populism. You can’t invest here, investors say. You can’t develop anything here, developers say. You can’t operate here, executives say. You can’t work here, employers say.

A dark atmosphere of persecution of business has led wealthy foreigners to keep away and wealthy locals to flee. An evil wind of persecution of the rich has made successful people lose the joy of creation and the love of doing what they do. A jealous and ungrateful Israel has condemned itself to oblivion in exchanging economic responsibility and business sense for rowdy and dangerous populism.

To a certain extent, the business community is right. After decades of uncertainty, a deep animus has developed toward big capital. After a generation in which almost everything took place in the twilight zone between government and big business, every move is being closely scrutinized. The atmosphere is toxic. Deep suspicion of Israeli capitalism and boundless animosity toward Israeli business leaders is endangering our future.

But after a certain point, the business community got it wrong. As the shocking revelations about Teva prove, something has gone wrong here. As similar revelations about Intel, Check Point and Israel Chemicals prove, legalized robbery is under way. As the mind-boggling gap between the upper 1 percent and the other 99 percent shows, Israel has become a state of injustice. Alongside the red populism that promises unattainable equality, a white populism of unbridled greed is tearing society to pieces.

My well-off brethren, it’s time to wake up. Your concern is justified that the masses will run amok and end the Israeli economic miracle. The danger of an anger-fueled sociopolitical turnabout is real. But the way to deal with the danger is not to sic the middle class on the ultra-Orthodox, the Arabs and organized labor. The way is not to tax the poor, the downtrodden, women and young couples. This can’t go on. The injustice has become intolerable. The government’s hardheartedness is inhumane, un-Jewish and un-Israeli.

So the business elite must prove that Israeli capitalism knows how to rein itself in, control its appetites and recognize its limitations. Now, of all times, the 1 percent has to put a shoulder under the stretcher. Israelis to whom this country has been good − as it has been good to Teva, Check Point and Israel Chemicals − are the Israelis who know where the money is. And unlike the treasury boys, they know how to manage the money.

So they’re the ones who have to make suggestions to reduce inequality without stifling growth and employment. They’re the ones who need to propose a middle road that will restore equilibrium and sanity to Israeli life. My well-off brethren, this is your time. Next will be the time of the masses.

The headquarters of Teva pharmaceuticals.

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