A Knesset committee meeting that was supposed to shed light on the government’s
behavior regarding the Ofer Brothers affair, only managed to raise further
questions after it was brought to an abrupt stop minutes after it began on
Tuesday afternoon because of a mysterious note.
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The Knesset Economics
Committee meeting dealing with the illegal sale of an oil tanker jointly owned
by the Ofer Brothers Group and Singapore- based Tanker Pacific to the Islamic
Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, was adjourned by committee chairman Carmel
Shama-Hacohen (Likud) after he was handed the note.
to identify the author of the note, but said it wasn’t from a political or
business related source, indicating that the instruction may have been security
related. Earlier in the day, Shama-Hacohen had said that the meeting
might be shifted to a closed session of the Foreign Affairs and Defense
The Prime Minister’s Office responded that neither it, nor any
agency related to it, ordered the meeting closed.
“Prior to the
commencement of the meeting, possible implications of the holding of the meeting
were being considered, balancing the benefit and need of holding the debate with
fear of causing harm. In the midst of the meeting, it was decided to stop it,”
Shama- Hacohen said in a statement.
MK Nachman Shai (Kadima), who
attended the meeting, called the decision to shut it down “an insult to
“Who has the authority to close down a perfectly legal
committee debate in the Knesset?” Shai asked in a letter he sent to the Knesset
legal adviser. “This was a severe injury to Israeli democracy, which we
in this House represent.”
Shai said he could understand a motion to close
off a meeting for security reasons, but that the cancellation of a meeting in
such a manner was unprecedented in Knesset history.
Before the abrupt
cancellation of the meeting, Shama- Hacohen criticized both the Ofer family and
government representatives who had been invited to attend the meeting, for
failing to show up.
“Everybody claims that they are not connected to the
affair, that they have nothing to add and therefore no reason to attend,” he
said. “I think it’s a mistake. Though I can’t force anyone to attend the
meeting, it would have been better if the Ofer family had sent a representative to clear
things up. All the evasive letters sent to the committee won’t help
anyone escape responsibility.”
Other lawmakers who attended the meeting,
including MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) and MK Yisrael Eichler (United Torah Judaism)
said the media was too quick to judge the Ofer family and that they should be
given the benefit of the doubt.
The Ofer family released a statement
earlier on Tuesday afternoon, saying that they would not send a representative
to the meeting, following an announcement by Israel Corporation, the country’s
largest holding company and majority-owned by the Ofer Brothers Group, saying
that “the sanctions imposed by the US administration in respect of the sale of a
tanker by Tanker Pacific which ended up in the hands of Iran, are not applicable
to Israel Corporation, its subsidiaries and companies held by Israel
Earlier, a family spokesman denied that statements made on
Monday by sources described as being close to the family, claiming that the
company had received government permission to dock in Iran, were approved by the
family, and that the family regretted that they were said.
family holdings in Israel are widespread. There is a general public
interest at stake and we need to receive answers from them,” Shai said during
the Knesset panel meeting.
“Right now there are more questions than
answers: What is the legal status of activities with Iran? What about civil
trade with Iran? Who is the Israeli body responsible to make sure that there is
no trade with Iran?
“So far we have only received partial answers delivered
stutteringly – statements that say one thing and hide another. It would not be
farfetched to have an authorized body conduct a thorough
Though the attorney-general has yet to publicly order an
investigation into the affair, several government agencies announced on Tuesday
that they would conduct probes of their own.
Finance Minister Yuval
Steinitz addressed the matter on Tuesday during a press conference in Jerusalem
to announce new measures to deal with rising housing prices.
to the Ofer Brothers specifically, he said he is looking at the matter
personally and had held preliminary internal discussions with ministry
officials, but that he could not give any more information at
present. However, he did refer to the fact that his ministry established
a committee roughly six months ago that is working to create a framework to
ensure that Israeli companies do not invest in companies connected to
The Bank of Israel’s banks supervisor David Zaken also said he
would be investigating the Ofer Brothers affair in the coming days, looking at
those aspects relevant to his own role at the central bank, in light of the Ofer
brothers’ holdings in the Mizrachi Tfachot bank.
Army Radio reported that
the security supervisor in the Defense Ministry was also investigating the
On Monday, MK Arye Eldad (National Union) made an enigmatic
statement saying it was possible that the tankers that docked in Iran were
spying on behalf of Israel and photographing its coasts, and therefore it must
be established whether they are “heroes or villains.”
“It may be that the
relative silence coming out of the government and the Ofer brothers is because
of the sensitive nature of the deeds, maybe things are more complicated than
meets the eye,” Eldad said.
Iranian officials have been quick to deny any
business relations with Israeli-owned companies.