Fifteen Lobbyists Against 17 MKs

Natural gas exploration company employees fill committee meeting hoping to keep royalty rates low.

No less than 13 lobbyists and two senior public relations executives employed by the natural gas exploration companies showed up for yesterday's meeting of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee. The lobbyists were only just outnumbered by the 17 MKs who showed up for the discussion, on raising taxes and/or royalties on gas and oil production, despite the fact that the Knesset is still in its summer recess.

Ronen Tzur Alon Ron
Alon Ron

Former minister and MK Rabbi Michael Melchior, the founder of Israel's Civil Action Forum, which supports raising royalties, reminded those present that the companies and their advisors and lobbyists headed off a similar move in the Knesset Finance Committee in 2002. "The meeting back then pitted 26 advisors, lobbyists and heads of energy companies against five MKs," Melchior said.

Eight years may have passed, but the picture was much the same yesterday.

The battle against raising taxes and royalties is quite unusual for the Knesset in that most of the work to thwart raising royalties is being done by lobbyists, with help from other consultants.

The gas and oil exploration companies have hired no less than five lobbying firms to convince MKs and ministers not to take an ax to their profits.

Yesterday, the lobbyists were busy noting which MKs were on their side and which were against them.

"The ordinary citizens who would benefit from higher royalty receipts don't have lobbyists in the Knesset," one participant said.

Among the lobbyists present yesterday were the Impact and Goren-Amir firms, which work for Yitzhak Tshuva's Delek Group, and Tikshoret Plus and Gilad, which were hired by Noble Energy, Delek's partner in several gas fields.

Another lobbyist present was Yisrael Yehoshua, who was hired by Delek Drilling. Yehoshua is close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The two PR execs attending the session were Ronen Tzur, a former MK who was hired by Delek to aid in the media campaign against raising royalties; and Amiram Fleisher, who represents Noble Energy.

The lobbyists worked hard before the meeting to convince MKs to object to raising royalties, and many MKs spoke out on the gas companies' side. MK Yulia Shamalov Berkovich (Kadima ) was the only MK to mention the lobbyists and their activities during the session.