Israeli economist Shir Hever, a researcher for the Alternative Information Center, was recently interviewed by RealNews TV about the relationship between economic issues and social control in Israel. One astonishing fact he noted was that 18 Israeli families control fully 60% of the equity value of all Israeli companies. Their wealth is concentrated in the four largest industries in Israel: banking and insurance, chemicals, high tech, and military/homeland security.
This 2007 Ynetnews article provides more specific background on the families:
The Dankner, Tshuva, Azrieli, Weisman, Saban, Arison, Bino, Federman, Borovich, Leviev, Hamburger, Fishman, Strauss, Wertheim, and Alovich families are among the 19 families who control the bulk of Israeli business.
The Dankner family increased its stake in the income generated by Israel’s leading companies to 18.7 percent through the purchase of Koor Industries, higher than any other family.
The Azrieli family joined the club of powerful business lords last year with its purchase of stakes in Granite Ha-Carmel Investments Ltd, acquiring controlling shares in Tambour, Sonol and Supergas.
The Alovich family purchased Zahav lines from Eliezer Fishman and joined the top-19 club.
The Wertheimer family exited the club, which numbered 18 in 2005, with the sale of 80 percent of Iscar to American investment mogul Warren Buffet.
When you think about the once proud history of Israel as an egalitarian society which valued the work and skills of every individual (even if it didn’t do that for the Palestinian Israelis) and created a social safety net that was the envy of the Scandinavian countries–Israel has become what it once hated. In 1965, it was rated one of the most equal nations in the world in terms of distribution of wealth. Today, it is a corporate wild west in which a quarter to third of all Israelis live below the poverty line. An even larger percentage of all Israeli children live below it as well since the Israeli poor tend to be Israeli Palestinian and Haredi and have extremely large families.
There is hardly a safety net to speak of. The poor are basically on their own. Israel is the triumph of Hobbesianism thanks to free marketeers like Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky. According to Hever Israel is the second most unequal country in the world after the U.S. Israel spends 75% less than the average western nation on redistributive programs like health care, unemployment, infrastructure and job creation. The reason: it invests so much of its budget in security it can’t afford to properly fund these social programs.
Hever reveals that Israel spends 9% of its budget on maintaining the Occupation (military spending specifically related to the Territories and settler subsidies) making it a very costly drain on Israeli economic development.
Some of Israel’s wealth has been drawn to the country by laws allowing Jews to come to Israel no questions asked. There may be outstanding lawsuits or arrest warrants, but they live comfortably in the knowledge that Israel will not extradite them to face their alleged crimes out of faux-Zionist solidarity.
This is not the Israel our grandparents fought for, the Israel for which Hebrew school children dropped millions of coins into their JNF boxes.
All five parts of Hever’s video interviews can be viewed here.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.