My Friend Bibi

Almost the entire Israeli business community enlisted in the campaign to get Shimon Peres elected; the few who bet on the winning horse, however, can now preen themselves on exceptional access to Bibi's inner circle. These are Benjamin Netanyahu's select business clique.

The progression of the peace process, attended as it was by the increase of foreign investments in Israel, brought the business community's leadership closer than ever to the Labour regime. In the recent elections, for the first time in Israel's history, most leading business- economic concerns turned out in favour of a single candidate - Shimon Peres. Newspaper advertisements, support rallies and resolute public pronouncements left no room for doubt: the business community very much wanted to see Shimon Peres continue as Prime Minister. The mere handful of businessmen who went along with Netanyahu, mostly personal friends of his, did so very quietly and discreetly. Today, finding that they put their money on the winning horse, they are emerging into the sunlight:

Moshe Schnitzer

Days before the elections, Moshe Schnitzer, former president of the Diamond Exchange, published an advertisement in support of Netanyahu, listing the names of 340 diamond merchants. Schnitzer, a Likud member, while closely acquainted with Peres, declares himself an "old friend" of Netanyahu, who is his junior by almost 30 years. "Bibi's youthfulness, in fact, was what charmed me".

What exactly do you like about Netanyahu?

"Not since Sapir's time have I seen anybody as unbegrudging towards businessmen as Bibi. He simply wants people to earn profits".

What economic measures will you recommend that he adopt?

Bibi understands economics. Now he needs to take some strong measures to arrest inflation, even if this is prejudicial to businessmen in the short term. He must take all precautions to avoid a replay of the Aridor era".

Rolando Eisen

Netanyahu's first stop on returning to Israel was the Rim furniture plant. The company's marketing manager had resigned, Netanyahu was looking for a job, and that was how he met Rolando Eisen, the then owner of Rim. "My encounter with Netanyahu", says Eisen, "was fortuitous. We worked together for three years".

What sort of a marketing man was he?

"Rim's best years in the mattress business were the years after Bibi left, on the strength of the infrastructure laid by him. He is a talented individual. Very talented, in fact. When he told me he was leaving I was prepared to offer him the job of general manager of Rim, and also a very large sum of money".

Later, after bitterly competing against the Aminach company, Eisen sold his shares in the furniture company and turned instead to entrepreneurship in the technological and hi-tech business fields.

Did it occur to you, in those days, that Bibi would manage to sell himself as prime minister?

"We were children then. Both of us had high-placed positions relative to our age, and I could not then have supposed how far Bibi would get".

Ted Arison

Arison is evidently one of the Prime Minister's wealthiest and closest friends. Arison first met Netanyahu in the `eighties, while he was serving as Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations.

Arison, originally an Israeli, met and was deeply impressed by him. Subsequently becoming fast friends, the two men take care to keep in touch, despite Arison's constant travels throughout his business empire. Arison left Israel in the `fifties, his first steps in America leading him to partnership in air transportation businesses. His Carnival Cruise Lines company is a world leader in cruise tourism.

Some years ago, Arison decided to immigrate to Israel. Relinquishing his US passport, he returned to this country. He founded an investment firm, operating in the fields of real estate and industry; and he could be one of the main beneficiaries of Netanyahu's vaunted privatization. Arison, who made an unsuccessful bid for control of Israel Chemicals, is presently competing for the controlling core of Bank Hapoalim, and is also party to the acquisition of control in Shikun & Binui.

Evidently a believer in not putting all one's eggs in one basket, Arison's partner in the contest for acquisition of Bank Hapoalim is the Claridge group, controlled by Charles Bronfman, known to be closely allied to Shimon Peres.

"In these recent elections", say the Israeli billionaire's close confidantes, "Arison contributed also to Labour's election campaign and not merely to that of the Likud and individuals enjoying his personal esteem". They are also in a position to inform you that the late Yitzhak Rabin was Arison's commanding officer in Palmach days. Arison was the signals operator of the Seventh Brigade in the War of Independence in the battles over Latrun and Jerusalem. He had great esteem for Rabin and is still in touch with Leah Rabin, since the days when they played together as children in the sands of Tel- Aviv.

Ronald Lauder

Son of Estee Lauder, founder of the world-wide cosmetics empire, he was actually the matchmaker between Netanyahu and the American secret adviser Arthur Finklestein. Lauder, who summoned Finklestein to his aid in his abortive attempt to get himself elected Mayor of New York, was responsible for bringing the two men together. Lauder made the recommendation, Netanyahu accepted it, Arthur got things moving.

Lauder, former US Ambassador to Austria, today controls the RSL group, which dominates communications, television and telecommunications firms. In the past, he interested himself in an invitation to bid for the choice of Channel 2 concessionaires, in the tender for the second overseas calls operator, and in the acquisition of the government computer corporation Malam, which was sold to Clal computers.

At the beginning of the year, Lauder invested $300,000 in the Ran Shmueli catering company, together with Irit Colber, wife of Yonatan Colber of the Renaissance Foundation. In an interview to Globes, following this acquisition, Lauder said "This was a first step towards investment in Israel, and undoubtedly a very tasty step".

"I met Benjamin Netanyahu", says Lauder, "when he was Israel`s ambassador to the United Nations, since when we have become good friends". He is believed to be one of Netanyahu's biggest contributors and Netanyahu's second wife is presently employed as a financial consultant in the Estee Lauder company. Itzik Fisher, a young Tel-Aviv businessman, who also once belonged to Netanyahu's immediate coterie, also has a hand today in Lauder's businesses.

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