Wanted: A Strong Antitrust Commissioner

The tycoons would prefer to appoint a weak commissioner who will enable them to amass even more power, but the government must rise above the tycoons' pressure, demonstrate responsibility and appoint a commissioner in line with its own views.

The cabinet will soon be asked to approve the appointment of a new antitrust commissioner, who will be nominated by Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon. This is a key post that affects the quality of life of every Israeli as well as economic growth. The antitrust commissioner is responsible for promoting competition in the economy - something the government has said it favors - in order to ensure rapid growth that will benefit the entire population.

Today, the economy suffers from excessive market concentration: Eight tycoons hold about NIS 1 trillion of the public's total financial assets. This gives them enormous power, including the ability to give jobs and consultancies to thousands of people - politicians, lawyers, accountants, regulators and journalists - and, in this way, to undermine democracy. The tycoons also tend to become the cronies of serving politicians, which enables them to press for legislation that suits their interests - and theirs alone.

Increased competition would weaken the tycoons, strengthen small and medium-sized businesses - which in turn would create jobs - and make the distribution of wealth in this country more equitable. In a competitive economy, businesses spring up rapidly and supply goods, services and lower prices to consumers.

The antitrust commissioner has the ability to halt the accumulation of power in the hands of tycoons - a trend which undermines competition. That is why these tycoons want a weak commissioner, who will enable them to amass even more power. Some are now pressuring senior government officials to appoint this sort of candidate for the job.

Israel is experiencing worrying declines in many areas, including education, social gaps and competitiveness. The government knows this and is trying to reverse the trend. It took one major and praiseworthy step when it set up a committee on promoting competition. Now it must rise above the tycoons' pressure, demonstrate responsibility and appoint a commissioner in line with its own views.

Simhon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must choose someone with a strong character, expertise in competition and the will and ability to take on the economy's most powerful organizations. The right candidate must believe with all his heart that excessive market concentration undermines competition, and that therefore, the power of the big conglomerates must be restricted for the sake of rapid growth and decent service to customers.