Taking Stock / Ronnie or Pony?

Who is Ronnie Brizon?

Technically, he's a Knesset member representing the Shinui Party. He sits on the Knesset Finance Committee, and on the Foreign Workers Committee as well.

Don't feel embarrassed if you hadn't heard of him before. You can't say he's left much of a mark on the Knesset or Israel's government.

But that may change soon, as Brizon seems to be the first Knesset member set to ally himself with the banks in their war against the implemention of the Bachar reforms, which will transform the capital market and banking system.

Until now, Brizon stayed mum on the reform, but at the end of last week he told Haaretz that he supports the legislation, "in principle." However, he added, he is troubled by the intention to sever the provident and mutual funds from the banks. "It's like forbidding a carpenter to make tables," he explained.


Brizon doesn't object to the reform. He is after all a member of Shinui, the party that has etched economic reforms benefiting the middle class on its flag. He could not possibly oppose a reform designed to release households and the capital market from the rule of the banks. It would be unthinkable for Ronnie Brizon of all people to be the Trojan horse the banks installed on the Knesset Finance Committee to frustrate the most important economic reform in years.

But no, Brizon supports the reform, it just that he's "troubled" by one single, bitty article, that pesky item calling for the banks to sell their provident and mutual fund holdings. If the reform is emasculated and its heart cut out with a machete, then he wouldn't be troubled.

Brizon is considered one of the more economically erudite Knesset members. It is decidedly odd that he of all people doesn't understand the difference between carpenters and banks.

No Israeli carpenter has a monopoly. There are hundreds of carpenters, and thousands of companies that import furniture and tables. As for the banking system, there are exactly two banks that control two-thirds of all credit extended in Israel - deposits, credit cards and money management.

Tables are not a substantial component of the Israeli consumption basket. Banking services are an integral and highly substantial component of every family's monthly expenditure. This is especially true of the middle class that Shinui is supposed to represent.

Carpentry shops do not control two-thirds of the nation's money. A carpenter's financial collapse would not trigger a terrifying domino effect. It would not shock the financial establishment to the core or cause billions of shekels in damage to the public.

When a person walks into a carpentry shop, he is not expecting objective advice on tables. He knows the shop will try to sell him whatever it has in stock, which is why he generally checks two or three shops before making a choice. In today's banking system, most customers buy whatever merchandise the bank has in stock, because the clerk advised them to do so.

A customer who buys a table doesn't contract with the carpenter for decades. Most clients are shackled to their banks through mortgage agreements, loans, overdrafts, standing payment orders or pure ignorance and fear of confronting anybody with such economic might.

International economists don't preach that a dynamic, competitive carpentry market is key to economic development. They do preach that a dynamic, competitive capital market is, though. In fact, it is one of the key elements underlying the most successful and advanced economies.

The market for tables turns over say a few tens of millions of shekels a year. The banking establishment controls about half a trillion shekels of the public's money and supplies 95 percent of the credit in Israel.

You could find 50 more differences between carpentry shops and banks, and the need to reform the banks, if not the wood-planing industry, but Brizon doesn't need to hear them, we suspect.

Looking at his resume - it appears on the Knesset Web site - and his academic credentials doesn't solve the mystery of how he, of all people, of all the Knesset members, fails to grasp the differences between carpenters and banks, and why he has taken on the role of the banks' Trojan horse in Knesset.

Happily, other sources in the Knesset can report something that doesn't appear on the parliament's Web site, namely, Brizon's former job: he was the manager of Bank Hapoalim's computer systems.

Brizon is hereby kindly asked to clarify whether he is "troubled" about divorcing the banks from their provident and mutual funds for the sake of Shinui voters, or for the sake of his former employers.