Commentary: Zehavit Cohen pays the price of the protests

Tnuva chairwoman wanted to take a shortcut and become Nochi Dankner in no time at all. It lifted her up and then crushed her.

By STELLA KORIN-LIEBER / GLOBES
October 3, 2011 23:51
4 minute read.
Commentary: Zehavit Cohen pays the price of the protests

Tnuva milk bags 298.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Zehavit Cohen is the first victim of the protests’ success.

It makes no difference if she resigned of her own volition as Tnuva Food Industries Ltd. chairwoman in commendably taking responsibility, or if she was instructed to move aside by her partners who began to see her as a burden.

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Cohen herself is not one of the “tycoons,” in the business sense of the word, who are being targeted by the protests, nor is she the owner of the business. However, she is a tycoon in terms of those being denigrated by the current social-protest movement.

Zehavit Cohen is the first victim of the movement that has spread into a civil rebellion. Her head has been sacrificed on the plate of rising and profligate prices, and she is a symbol and the strongest of warnings to her business colleagues. Her colleagues have until now seen the public as a means to wring out cash, income, bonuses and dividends.

It is only natural that a relative rookie, only five years since she took her place in the front line of Israeli businesspeople, should be the first to fall. She only did everything that all the major businesspeople have done and are doing but from the springboard of a leader with new enthusiasm.

The public protest vanquished Cohen and humiliated the country’s giant food monopoly that since it was founded 85 years ago has behaved with conceit and arrogance. But now Tnuva is brought to its knees and bows to the ground. Not just another cottage-cheese bargain discount and reduction in prices. They are even talking about financial reports, which it must be said will help Zehavit avoid disgrace.

If the corporation does indeed publish financial reports in full, in the same form as required by public companies, then we will be able to see whether, as Cohen claims, Tnuva’s profitability is no larger than acceptable margins in other sectors, or if the public’s anger will instead be directed at the two other links in the supply chain: the farmers who produce the milk and the retail chains that market the products.

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If Tnuva publishes full financial reports, it will make superfluous the claims of Tnuva minority shareholder Mivtach Shamir Holdings Ltd.and its chairman, Meir Shamir, against Tnuva and Cohen, and the legal proceedings will end. Mivtach Shamir’s shares will again be traded on the TASE, and that front will again be quiet. And perhaps, too, the investigations into Tnuva by the Israel Antitrust Authority will end.

If Tnuva turns over to the public all the financial data, then the regulator will be able to see everything. Even that, as Tnuva claims, it is not concealing any information, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Although Cohen is the first victim of the revolution, is it possible to say that the investigation by the Antitrust Authority and the dramatic raid on Tnuva’s office last week are a result of the protest? Could it be that the new regulator, David Gilo, has embarked on a public-relations campaign.

Otherwise, how do you explain the official, problematic, tough response of the Antitrust Authority: “There is suspicion of concealing documents. We have sent a clear demand to receive those documents, and we have only received some of the information – criminal offenses are involved. There are indications that they chose to conceal information.”

Not perhaps, not maybe; there is not even a presumption of innocence.

The public – a worn out UFO – is angry and smitten, and through the power of great democracy and advanced technology, it has enabled consumer leaders such as Itzik Alrov, the cottage-cheese protest leader, to triumph. He succeeded in doing what no government, or cabinet minister, or regulator, even tried or thought about trying to achieve: to lower prices.

In the best-case scenario, politicians and senior government officials do not go into stores and pay out of their own pockets. In the worst case, they, too, at some stage or another benefit from the spiced-up prices. The public beat the cabinet, the Knesset and the government ministries, not to mention the Kedmi Committee and the Oligopoly Committee. And now the public begins to threaten the farming lobby that led the “Dairy Law” legislation that was passed only last April and legally sanctioned anti-consumerism behavior by the authorities.

Zehavit Cohen built her success with her own hands, and she cannot blame anybody else for her failure either.

Everything is her own doing. She marks out ambitious targets and aims high. She wins big time and earns big time, and in her own words: “The target is very clear to me: to implement acquisitions, to improve them as much as possible, and to sell. There is an aim, and we go for it in a very clear way with a checklist – and we accomplish it. That’s me.” (Yediot Aharonot March 29, 2010).

On her way up she ran over no small number of people.

They waited for her and Sunday morning celebrated. She uses force and finds it difficult to work by persuasion and understanding. What she says is what she wants done – without confronting opposition or different opinions. Whoever bothers her is generally thrown out. Whoever thinks differently is moved aside.

Everything was clear and straightforward. Could Meir Shamir and Mivtach Shamir reach some sort of compromise with Tnuva and publish enough information to satisfy the Israel Securities Authority, enabling the company to be traded on the TASE. But Cohen refused. With her it is all or nothing. She wanted to take a shortcut and become Nochi Dankner in no time at all. It lifted her up and then crushed her.

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