A Top Ten Roll Call of Shame

Israel's highest earners shouldn't be celebrated, they should be shamed.

Yossi Sarid
Yossi Sarid
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Children celebrating Lag Ba'omer in the Mea She'arim neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Children celebrating Lag Ba'omer in the Mea She'arim neighborhood of Jerusalem.Credit: Lior Mizrahi
Yossi Sarid
Yossi Sarid

Another initiative to limit excessive salaries, and once again, the newspapers publish a list of the “top earners." More like a top 10 roll call of shame: former Teva CEO Jeremy Levin (NIS 25 million per year), Israel Chemicals CEO Stefan Borgas (NIS 20.4 million), Africa-Israel CEO Lev Leviev (NIS 20.1 million), Clal Insurance CEO Izzy Cohen (NIS 18.1 million), Oil Refineries CEO Aharon Yaari (NIS 14.9 million), Israel Corp CEO Nir Gilad (NIS 16.5 million), real estate tycoon David Azrieli (NIS 14.9 million), Gazit-Globe CEO Jeffrey Olson (NIS 12.9 million), Gazit-Globe chairman Chaim Katzman (NIS 12.5 million) and Israel Direct Insurance CEO Raviv Zoller (NIS 11.9 million). It's a list worth cutting out and saving for the upcoming Jewish festivals.

This time we’ll focus on the leaders of the fat cat parade, though without forgetting the other hundreds of CEOs who are “sucking dry the nation’s pensions,” in the words of Professor Uriel Procaccia, the principal drafter of the country’s corporate governance code. “In retrospect,” he wrote, “one can firmly say that the law was an utter failure in regard to executive salaries." The vampires go on their merry way, sucking and sucking.

Now, the finance minister proposes a new direction: A ban on tax deductions from salaries that exceed NIS 3.5 million. Do you hear the fat cats laughing? They’ll have no problem paying a small “fine” and laughing all the way from the bank or the insurance company. A few more million shekels between them and us, no big deal.

If we really want to put an end to the exploitation, we need to spoil their appetite, which just keeps growing along with all the gobbling and guzzling. And laws won’t do any good, because they are often designed to be circumvented rather than enforced, and are the refuge of the strong.

Better to forgo the bones tossed off by the fat cats with one hand, while the other pockets exorbitant interest and bank fees, and killer mortgages. Better not to cooperate with the tycoons and the media enablers that exempt the government from its debt to its citizens. Bank Hapoalim has just come out with a huge advertising campaign, advising us how to scrimp and even save — just don't forget to turn out the lights or shut off the water heater. Gosh, what would we do without Bank Hapoalim owner Shari (or maybe it’s Rakefet) Arison, who will soon be sending flags to every home as a gift. Leave those flags folded and untouched.

We're told that their opulent feast must not be interrupted. The state must not interfere with the “market economy.” Once again, you can hear the fat cats enjoying a hearty laugh. For there is no area of our lives — housing, health or food — that the state keeps its hands off. It has no problem cutting child allowances and bringing hunger to hundreds of thousands of families, but it does have a problem setting a maximum salary by law, which would close off an opening for thieves.

We’re also told that those who complain are just speaking out of jealousy. What is there to envy about rotten people whose wealth was not attained due to their talent? We’re dealing with a moral handicap that prevents them from understanding: No one in Israel deserves to earn in a single year what someone else will not come close to earning in his entire life. Grossly inflated salaries in a place where 50,000 Holocaust survivors are going hungry and 12 percent of children eat out of trash bins, according to the National Insurance Institute, is a crime against humanity. And they say that once upon a time we had solidarity here.

It’s time to revoke the fat cats’ seal of approval. Soon, it will be Independence Day, and this presents an opportunity. They’re spitting in our faces, and we’re not willing to just sit there and take it. Even if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Finance Minster Yair Lapid, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, President Shimon Peres and Science and Technology Yaakov Perry will be there, at the ball, we don’t feel like going anymore.

Right after that comes Lag Ba’omer, and this year there seems to be a shortage of natural candidates for burning in the bonfire. Amalek and Haman again? Boring. Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? So passé. And we wouldn’t want to burn Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as we keep flocking to Antalya in droves. So if you’ve cut out and saved that list from the newspaper, here’s your chance to use it. Perhaps those who feel no shame in appearing on the list of Korah’s heirs will be ashamed to find themselves in demand for the bonfire and announce the repayment of their debt to society.

Not a bad idea: On the one hand, no harm will come to the top 10 tycoons, it’s just a children’s game after all. On the other hand, maybe they’ll finally understand that, as far as we’re concerned, they can burn.

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