People, Not Just Money, Might Flee Israel

Not only can money flee the country, so can people; and if the present protest ends in disappointment, many people will, and that would be a national tragedy.

Israel's tycoons have known better days. Now they have fallen from grace. Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a good friend, is keeping them at arm's length. The wheel of fortune has turned. The tycoons feel betrayed. If people here continue to rejoice at their fall, they'll go somewhere else. And the threat is being echoed in the corridors and rooms of government as well.

This week Michael Strauss joined those who are threatening. "Businessmen won't stay here," he said in an interview to a business supplement, and he shouldn't have said it. After all, we tend to feel affection for this Yekke (German Jewish ) family, for Hilde and Richard, who already in 1936 established a small dairy in Nahariya, in their back yard, of whose flavor something remains.

And all at once the smell has turned bad; suddenly it turns out that the pioneering commitment of those days has soured like stale milk, and today it is commitment with limited liability. Had the leaders of the protest or the doctors come out with such a scandalous declaration, the foundations of the building would have shaken: Look who we're dealing with, those defeatist and unpatriotic leftists.

Because the prime minister is liable to feel pressured, as usual, we feel obligated to reassure him a little: Don't worry, because the tycoons have nowhere else to go. It's not worth their while, and that's something they understand.

Milk and its products are only a parable, but a brief consumer survey reveals that in France and Switzerland they have also learned how to produce cheeses of fairly decent quality. And we also discovered that since a middle-class Israeli cow yields more than all the cows in the world, it can be milked without limits. Nothing can compare with the teats of submissive subjects, who are charged double for a plain yogurt and three times as much for the invention of a Milky chocolate pudding.

Even the British Apax Partners, which has taken over Tnuva, admits: Nowhere else have we found such high percentages of fat. In three years we earned over $1 billion, and thank you to Tnuva chairman Zehavit Cohen who has brought us to this point.

There is no reason to flee because Israel is a safe tax haven. There are not many countries who know how to pamper the mighty rich with benefits and grants, who nullify the taxes and leave a surplus profit. There are not many countries that enable the same people to own both financial and real assets; that permit the construction of huge pyramids alongside miserable cities; who insanely privatize national resources and abandon them to cartels and monopolies; who grant great honor in exchange for small change; who tighten the alliance between businessmen and government officials who not only enhance but also support one another.

If only we had a wealthy man of international stature like Warren Buffett, who wrote this week in The New York Times: "My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress." This is the man who willed his property to civic society because his wealth came from there and will return to it; and property in this case is the soul.

And why flee, if even now one can invest in Budapest and Bucharest, lose everything there and still come out ahead here. Romanian cows don't agree to cover losses with their savings and pension funds. Only in Israel are Tshuva and Zisser, Dankner and Ben Dov considered too big to fall.

Not only can money flee the country, so can people. The path of flight is open to anyone who packs his bags. Even now over half a million Israelis are living in New York. They didn't threaten - they simply left. And if the present protest ends in disappointment, many will follow them. And that would be a national tragedy.

The government must decide which danger looks closer and more concrete at the moment - the flight of capital or the brain drain? Aren't we accustomed to boasting modestly that the "Jewish brain" is the only treasure we have?