Nasradishi to Head Tax Authority

It took an astonishing 17 months, but the committee in charge of choosing a new tax commissioner has finally done the deed and named one: Yehuda Nasradishi will be Israel's next top tax man.

It took an astonishing 17 months, but the committee in charge of choosing a new tax commissioner has finally done the deed and named one: Yehuda Nasradishi will be Israel's next top tax man.

The committee had been formed in February 2007 by Israel's former finance minister, Avraham Hirchson, after the tax commissioner at the time (Jacky Matza) was arrested and then resigned over an investigation into alleged corruption at the Tax Authority. Israel's present finance minister, Roni Bar-On, will be bringing Nasradishi's appointment before the cabinet for approval within a matter of days.

The nomination is not expected to be opposed.

The length of the process culminating in Nasradishi's appointment had been scandalous, and the committee made every possible misstep, which left the nation without a tax commissioner for almost a year and a half.

As the Tax Authority is responsible for the state's income, when its functioning flags, so does tax revenues and consequently so does the functioning of the government. Tax experts say that the lack of a leader at the tax institute cost the state billions of shekels in lost income over the 17 months.

After Matza's arrest in early January 2007, the former treasury director-general, Joseph Bachar, agreed to act as commissioner for three months. Nasradishi replaced him on April 7, 2007, and every few months the finance minister extended his tenure.

Seeking a glitzy star

A few months ago Roni Bar-On sketched the features of an ideal commissioner in an address to Institute of Certified Public Accountants in Israel: "A combination of maturity, public and business experience, knowhow, and management experience."

But he wanted a younger, glitzy personality. The problem was that young superstars didn't want the job and during the last leaderless 17 months, the young talents left in droves. It will take years for the Tax Authority to replace all the lawyers, accountants, economists and other stars it lost.

The committee to locate a new chief had been headed by treasury director-general Yarom Ariav and included Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander, former Bank of Israel governor Moshe Mandelbaum, and others.

For some reason they evidently felt that none of the thousands of people working diligently at the Tax Authority were worthy of the lofty position and focused their search on the business sector.

Six weeks ago the name of Zeev Feldman was bruited about as the top choice, but he turned down the job. Yet instead of simply naming Nasradishi to the post, the committee spent six more weeks searching.

Rising in the ranks

Nasradishi, 64, was born in Tehran and immigrated to Israel at age four. He's been known to quip that he grew up with the Black Panthers in Jerusalem's Musrara neighborhood and later the family moved to Netanya. He joined the Tax Authority in October 1966. Nasradishi has held 16 different positions at the Tax Authority and is the first chief to have started at the bottom and risen rung by rung, a climb that took 42 years.

Since Matza's resignation, after Bachar, Nasradishi has served as acting commissioner. Among his achievements are promoting tax breaks for new immigrants and returning expatriate Israelis. He knows Israel's tax system, mainly the direct (income tax) system, inside and out, and says he's an "anonymous, quiet, introverted" type, quite the opposite of his predecessors - Matza and Eitan Rub. Nasradishi is not charismatic, is not a networker and doesn't give interviews. But what the Tax Authority needs is a pro, say insiders at the institution, not a swan, and that's what they got.

Nasradishi's first job will be to rehabilitate the battered institution and restore the confidence and pride of its workers. The Tax Authority has been in crisis for some time and hasn't had any long-term planning for a year and a half. Without guidance from management many staffers lost their motivation to do anything but get through the day, and dragged their feet on making decisions on sensitive issues. Thousands of cases bogged down. The new commissioner will have to choose and groom a new generation of management. Dozens of positions await personnel choices.