I am no great fan of tycoons – especially the variety who did not start off as manufacturers of some tangible product (like industrial cutting tools, or cut diamonds) or providers of professional services (like hotels or shipping) in which they gained expertise, and whose business empires are based on over-leveraged financial pyramids.

From the very start of his rise in the business world Nochi Dankner was one of those who rubbed me the wrong way, and from whose shares and bonds I avoided like a house on fire, though unfortunately those who invested the money in my providence and advanced study funds were apparently not as vigilant.

Dankner is probably the most wholesome looking of tycoons. Unlike some of the other tycoons he also doesn’t try to impose his spiritual or religious beliefs (whatever they might be) on our children, by financing “enrichment classes” at their schools.

However, he has what looks like a permanent smirk on his face that projects an aura of arrogance, and one gets the feeling that if there is anything really worth knowing about the man, beyond facts and figures about his business empire, these are locked in some safe.

Of the few facts we do know about Dankner, however, are that he enjoys distributing large checks to projects in local authorities, and to “holy men” such as Rabbi Yaakov Ifargan (“the Xray”) and Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, who he apparently also consults, in some form or other, regarding his business ventures.

THERE IS, of course, nothing wrong with giving charity to those in need, but when this is done in front of cameras, the source of the money is corporate rather than private, and the objects of the charity are frequently projects for which the state ought to be responsible (that is, if Israel were a well-ordered state with a social conscience and some social vision), then one cannot avoid asking the question how the gvir of the Jewish shtetl has re-emerged in the sovereign State of Israel in the form of Nochi Dankner and his ilk.

The real tragedy is that most of the citizens of this country do not seem to mind this return to the shtetl, and are oblivious to the fact that modern Zionism was a revolt against the traditional Jewish way of life in Eastern Europe, before the Holocaust caused the total destruction of the latter, turning it into something to be remembered with longing.

As to the rabbis, everyone, including gentlemen who do not wear a skullcap or visit a synagogue on a regular basis, can finance or consult any rabbi they please. However, when the money being donated and the advice being requested affect the pockets of third parties, many of whom view men like Ifargan and Pinto as little more than impostors and charlatans, who offer miracle cures and hope to the simpleminded, who have stopped expecting the state to come to their assistance – then there is a problem.

All this is much more disturbing now that the flagship of Dankner’s financial empire, IDB Holdings, has had “a going-concern warning” attached to it.

“Bad luck,” some say about this recent development. “Sheer arrogance,” others point out – especially those who all along analyzed Dankner’s purchases, such as land in Las Vegas to construct a grand hotel together with Yitzhak Tshuva in 2007, shares of Credit Suisse in 2008-2010 and the Ma’ariv daily in 2011, and concluded that the man is a reckless gambler, lacking any real understanding of the intricacies of the business world.

Furthermore, for quite a while now the danger of the over-leveraged financial pyramids has been of major concern and debate in the media, the Finance Ministry and the Knesset.

“Poppycock,” retorted Dankner and the other tycoons, who sent hordes of lobbyists to the Knesset to try and prevent moves to force them to dismantle their pyramids – unfortunately with some measure of success.

In Dankner’s case this approach was quite in line with what those close to him say about him: that he is an incurable optimist, who is inclined to turn a deaf ear to people who differ with him about his assessment of the situation.

In Dankner’s favor one must say that he is determined to do everything possible to avoid a debt settlement involving what is known in financial jargon as a “haircut,” which would involve major losses to the owners of the debt.

Other tycoons, who have got into similar financial straits, appear to have accommodated themselves to “haircuts” without as much as a wink, though some – like Lev Leviev – have simply lowered their profile, and disappeared from our TV screens.

Unless a miracle occurs and Dankner manages to find someone to invest in his empire, and save it from collapse, all one can do is hope that the process will be as controlled as possible, and the losses as small as possible.

Experts agree that Dankner himself should not be involved in this process, since he does not possess the appropriate personal qualifications and experience to perform it properly.

He should concentrate on reverting to his natural size, and proceeding from there. The motto “walk humbly” (Micah 6:8), would also serve him well, but that is apparently not part of the advice that the holy men impart.

The writer teaches at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College and was a Knesset employee for many years.

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