The Dead Sea won't go to London with Idan Ofer

Aviv Lavi

A package deal is needed for the tycoons, which should include levying a real tax, a just distribution of the profits, and lowering the level of hostility.

We can only hope that if tycoon Idan Ofer moves the focus of his life to London, as "Globes" reported earlier this week, he is doing so for family, personal, or administrative reasons, but not out of tax calculations. In fact, I believe that taxes are not the reason: after all, it is inconceivable that a man with a fortune that "Forbes" estimates at $6.5 billion roams from country to country just to reduce his tax burden by a few zeros.

Anyone seeking to peek at the dismal relationship between the Israeli public and the country's tycoons is invited to scan the flood of talkbacks on the websites in response to the report. There was little love for tycoons there. Many writers were in a rush to shove Idan Ofer off to London with a one-way ticket, accompanied by pithy curses.

Let us calm down. Idan Ofer, like all of us, is allowed to live where he wants. When a man decides to plant his stakes in another country, it is not necessarily out of defiance of his homeland. Tycoons of this size divide their time between several countries and homes. It does not really matter to the Israeli public whether Ofer manages his world-spanning empire from his mansion in Arsuf, a Tel Aviv penthouse, or from his modest address in London.

So I suggest leaving Ofer alone, on the condition that it is mutual: on the condition that the tycoons, industrialists, and especially the well-oiled PR people do not exploit his move, if he does move, to a new home, to break out into a "we told so" festival, or to blame the Israeli economy for driving away tycoons and shooting itself in the foot.

Please spare us the preaching. Idan Ofer can move to London, which is fine, but he cannot take with him the Dead Sea or the phosphate quarries of Rotem Amfert Negev Ltd. Oil Refineries Ltd. (TASE:ORL), with all its new facilities, is not going anywhere anytime soon, either.

We have come a long way since industry was a source of boastful pride of the Zionist enterprise. Corporations with enterprises that have a massive impact on the environment, like Ofer's Israel Corporation (TASE: ILCO), have become over the years a symbol of environmental degradation.

In recent years, industry has found a refreshing way of dealing with this situation. Many enterprises, including the great businesses of the Ofer empire, have invested huge sums in reducing air pollution and treating the waste they produce. They have all met the updated standards of developed countries.

They say London has good music

But while industry is waging the previous campaign, with considerable success, a new war has been declared on it: a war for resources that emerged with the social protest and has since refused to be taken off the agenda. This is a good thing. This can be called the war for equal sharing of the burden. At its center are questions like: To whom does the Dead Sea belong? To whom belong natural treasures, such as bromine, potash, and phosphates? To whom belong the natural gas fields in the depths of the sea?

The war for equal sharing of the burden includes a public demand for an equitable sharing of resources and the profits from them, and, no less important, for an equitable sharing of the tax burden. Although the royalties paid by Israel Chemicals Ltd. (TASE: ICL) have grown, this was only after trench warfare between the company's officers and officials at the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Finance. A second Sheshinski committee, which will review the paucity of royalties paid on the countries other natural treasures has not yet been established.

According to a recent report in "Globes", Israel Chemicals received a tax break of NIS 2.6 billion over the past five years. It should be noted that thousands of company employees earn salaries and conditions that employees most other sectors of the economy can only dream about. The general public therefore wants its share of this vast wealth.

The time has come to cure the relationship between the government and the tycoons like Idan Ofer; a package deal which should include levying a real tax, a just distribution of the profits, and lowering the level of hostility.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on April 9, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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