Taking Stock / Dear Meni Mazuz

To: Meni Mazuz, attorney general of the State of Israel.

From: Guy Rolnik, Economics editor of Haaretz.

Dear Mr Mazuz,

I read the report you compiled on what has become known as the Greek island case, in which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, his son, Gilad, and developer David (Dudi) Appel were implicated, and felt I really had to write to you.

Actually, I read the report through twice, and I would really appreciate your thoughts on a dilemma I face that is strikingly similar to the issues you raise in the report.

The story is quite simple:

The heads of the big banks are angry with me. More accurately, they are boiling mad. For months, I have been writing columns that explain why the provident funds and mutuals should be severed from the banks. The issue is not a new one; I have been writing about the issue of the banks' control over the capital market and the lack of alternative financing sources for a decade.

I'm behaving badly, fume the bankers. They claim my columns could influence officials at the Finance Ministry, politicians and even Knesset members and economists who are discussing reform of the capital market. They complain that the timing of my articles is inappropriate, as the team headed by the treasury's director-general, Yossi Bachar, is about to submit its report on capital market reform.

In the last few weeks, the manager of Bank X and chief executive of Bank Y tried to persuade me that I had it wrong. There is, in fact, no need to separate the banks from their funds, they argued. I heard them out. They presented some weighty arguments. But I remained unconvinced that they have better ideas for instituting real change in the capital market; and for the time being, I persevere in my support for separating the banks from the mutuals and provident funds.

Yet, what a coincidence! A week ago, I came home from work, and what does my wife tell me? That one of the banks hired our daughter, Gili (not her real name), to prepare an opinion paper on the optimal structure of a non-banking financial system for Israel.

True, Gili does not have much experience in non-banking financing; but as you know, Mr Mazuz, experience isn't cardinal. What really matters is motivation! The drive to succeed!

The banks aren't slobs. They did their homework and were highly impressed with Gili, and they surely have very good reasons for suggesting pay of a million shekels in cash + VAT for her opinion.

Look, Meni, let me be clear about this, my daughter is smart as a whip. Iris, her kindergarten teacher, says Gili really stands out at story-time. Her babysitter says her vocabulary is far superior to that of most toddlers her age.

If people suddenly start to nit-pick about her qualifications, well, that isn't a problem. Grandpa says she's a genius; Granny says she's a prodigy; and I'm sure the banks' other advisers, who are getting paid through the nose to fight Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's reform of the capital market, would agree that young Gili is an exceptional talent.

Anyway, take a good look at the banks, Meni, and you'll find that in recent years, they squandered billions of shekels on really bad deals and loans, so a million shekels for Gili (+ VAT) is really peanuts.

As a journalist and daily columnist who preaches day in and day out to others, it is incumbent upon me to make sure that justice isn't just done, but seen to be done. To prevent the usual evil tongues from wagging, and the all too ordinary malice from taking root, I would really appreciate if you could give me your learned legal opinion, clarifying that no inference or relationship whatsoever is to be drawn between Gili's contract and my occupation as a journalist.

In this pre-ruling from you, I would appreciate if you could underscore that any attempt to link Gili's business and my journalistic occupation would constitute an unseemly impairment of our freedom of occupation, and I would be entitled not only to sue for slander, but to demand damages based on harm to my good name and loss of potential income.

To remove any shadow of doubt: it must be patently obvious that I am not intervening in my daughter's business. I am inflexible about keeping professional and familial matters strictly apart.

Let it be clear that I shall continue to explain the advantages in separating the banks from their investment funds, and to analyze the significance of the banks' domination over the capital market. I shall continue to see myself as loyal to the interests of the Haaretz readers, the entire public, and to them alone.

Naturally, I do not undertake that my articles will appear at the same frequency, or that they will have the same sharp tone as in the past. After all, I am growing older and I know one should never adhere blindly to one side of an issue. All issues have two sides and maybe I will become convinced that there is some logic in leaving the provident funds and mutuals in the hands of the banks.

What matters to me, Meni, is that in any case, Gili's good name must not be hurt in any way from this whole story. Look, she's only three years old and her whole life is ahead of her. The last thing I want is for people to say that her daddy opened the doors for her and set up jobs.