Netanyahu to appoint puppet to oversee telecom

Avi Berger photo: Eyal Yitzhar
Gad Perez

Many interpreted the dismissal of Ministry of Communications Director General Avi Berger as an attempt to protect Bezeq from reform.

Ministry of Communications Director General Avi Berger, one of the best to have held the post in the past few administrations, is now paying the price for having worked too hard and too well on behalf of the citizens of Israel. Last night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also acting Minister of Communications, called Berger on the phone and fired him. Someone like Berger is a thorn in the side of someone like Benjamin Netanyahu. Anyone who is too successful will eventually pay the price. Get in line, don’t stand out too much, play your political cards right, be mediocre, and your future in the Netanyahu administration is guaranteed.

If I could give some advice to Shlomo Filber, Netanyahu’s likely pick for the role, I would recommend that he not take the job. A dark cloud will follow him throughout his entire tenure, on account of the circumstances of his appointment. There is not a single player in the market who doesn’t know that this is the most problematic sort of political appointment, and that any decision he makes will be subject to intense scrutiny. There is no doubt that the attorney general will have a lot of work in the upcoming administration.

Berger is an excellent, professional appointee, and as such, he delivered the goods. He would be an asset to any incoming Minister of Communications, and he earned wall-to-wall support. Because of his professional background and the experience he has gained over the years, one could argue with him on professional topics, and disagree with him on numerous matters, but no one can say that his decisions were tainted by external considerations.

What now?

From the moment the incident was first reported in “Globes,” rumors have been circulating that Berger is paying the price for his battle with Bezeq Israeli Telecommunication Co. Ltd. (TASE: BEZQ) over landline reform. Bezeq’s share price is up on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) amid speculation in the market that Berger being fired will moderate - or even halt - the reform in the landline and Internet markets. The share prices of other Elovitch Group companies that are dependent upon Bezeq are of course up as well, such as B Communications and Internet Zahav.

If the rumors are true, it is a very big mistake to fire Berger. From now on, should Bezeq receive even the slightest perceived benefit, it will be in deep trouble, because the press will be all over Bezeq, and all over Filber and the prime minister. Bezeq can perhaps be glad that Berger is no longer personally in the ministry, but it should not be too happy. The consensus in the professional ranks and the legacy Berger leaves behind make it impossible for the Ministry of Communications to undo everything that has been imposed upon Bezeq.

Berger’s dismissal was carried out so clumsily that it borders on humiliating. Does anyone really believe that the ministry can suddenly step up and tell Bezeq that its telephony is not included in the landline reform and have that go down quietly? Does anyone believe that the professional ranks at the Ministry of Communications would let such a thing happen? The communications market is in the midst of one of its stormiest times. There is not a single part of the ministry that is not in storm’s path. The professional ranks received Berger’s support to do everything possible to advance reforms that have been stalled for years, and have just started moving.

Is it time to stop?

And what about Minister Ofir Akunis, who is responsible for communications? He has not yet started work, and he’s already been cut down. Netanyahu’s actions have clipped his wings, before he has even learned what his position within the Ministry of Communications will be. How can Akunis make decisions when everyone knows he’s not really in charge, and that the director general is a Netanyahu fan who owes him his job? Indeed, there will be no glory for this administration.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 18, 2015

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2015

Avi Berger photo: Eyal Yitzhar
Avi Berger photo: Eyal Yitzhar
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