Afternoon Tea in Jerusalem Blog

Life in Israel

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Israeli commercial life and society

In addition to my work as a business coach, one of my interests is blogging about life in Israel. This is a country full of contrasts – over eight million citizens living in an area the size of Wales. You can see snow and the lowest place on the globe in the same day. Although surrounded by geopolitical extremes, Israel has achieved a decade of high economic growth. My work brings me in contact with an array of new companies, exciting technologies and dynamic characters. Sitting back with a relaxing cup of strong tea (with milk), you realise just how much there is to appreciate in the Holyland. Large or small operations, private sector or non profit, my clients provide experiences from which others can learn and benefit.

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Is Netanyahu guilty, of the Teva syndrome?

Israel’s Prime Minister is currently under police investigation in at least four different cases. In parallel, Teva, until recently the largest company in the Holy Land, has seen its power melt away in a sea of corporate debt. Although there is no substantial connection, the two subjects are connected, unfortunately.

Let me start with the Parliamentary scope. In recent years, several Israeli politicians, including a former Prime Minister and a President, have landed up in prison. Now the fact that the serving PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been questioned may be seen as the new norm. His party’s rating in the polls has barely dropped, for now.

Bibi, as the PM is known, claims innocence on all counts. And there are still no recommendations to press charges, to date, even if he has been visited several times by the police. In no order of preference, it is claimed that:

  • he received favours from a local press baron.
  • he received favours from people of wealth, possibly in return for legislative support.
  • his lawyer and other confidants ensured a submarine was bought from Germany, when it may not have been needed and this then resulted in substantial commissions paid out.
  • a friend was able to run Bezeq, the national telephone company, while he remained as acting Minister of Communications.

In addition, his Likud party has pushed through, although not always succeeded, a welter of legislation that is heavily biased towards key sectors of the electorate. And that sectorial effort had been led until two weeks ago by another confidant, David Biton, who himself is now being investigated for possible financial misdemeanours in his home city of Rishon Lezion.

I have no idea if Bibi is or is not guilty. At the very least, he seems to be surrounded by advisors, who have evidently slipped over the line of what is acceptable in public governance. In my view, that is equally unacceptable . This demands his immediate acknowledgement of responsibility, which has yet to be admitted.

Teva is (was?) the largest generic pharmaceutical company in the world. It grew from modest beginnings. It was to hit on a wonder drug called Copaxone and made a fortune from it. Based solidly in the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas, most of its workers and profits are located overseas. Shares in Teva were considered “shares in the State”. You could not go wrong!

When no replacement was found for Copaxone, the directors decided to expand through acquisition. After several successes, they approved the takeover of Allergan for over US$40 billion, and thus draining most of its US$5 billion reserves.

That debt has proved too much to bear. The company is to lay off 25% of its workforce, which will include the closure of two flagship factories in Jerusalem.

And who are the directors? A small group of leading industrialists, who have grown up together in the business world, many of whom have no experience of the pharmaceutical industry. They are the ones who made rash decisions, impacting on the lives of thousands of relatively poorly paid workers, while they received payment for their services way above the average wage. And this privileged group will apparently face no payback for their recklessness.

My point is as follows. Both those elite politicians and those secretive leaders of finance felt that they were so elite and secretive that they had the right to do what they want, and that they could not be touched. Ironically, in an electronic age when we have heard of news before it is made, they all simply felt they could “get away with it”.

Greed, avarice, lack of care – call it what you want, it is generation of leaders that have simply misunderstood what leadership really means. Alternatively, they knew but power corrupted their decision making. They all need to go – both lots of them – and go now.

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