Israeli CEOs, tech entrepreneurs speak out against African deportations

Owners of Israel’s largest businesses have joined the call to oppose the measure.

February 2, 2018 00:54
3 minute read.
Azrieli Center

Azrieli Center. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


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Dozens of Israeli CEOs, tycoons and entrepreneurs condemned the government's plan to forcibly deport 40,000 asylum-seekers from Sudan and Eritrea

Speaking out publicly in a set of interviews published on Thursday by the financial newspaper Calcalist for its weekend edition, the executives include the owners of some of Israel’s largest businesses, along with entrepreneurs and tycoons.

Fabled entrepreneurs such as Yossi Vardi, nicknamed the “godfather” of Israel’s hi-tech industry; Benny Landau, the “father” of commercial digital printing; and Dov Moran, the inventor of the USB memory stick, are among those denouncing the plan.

“There’s a need to invest more thought and effort in this matter to find reasonable solutions,” Vardi said. “We already import many helping hands from the Far East and Eastern Europe, so maybe there’s a way to sort things out.”

Owners of Israel’s largest businesses have joined the call to oppose the measure, including Rami Levy, who founded the eponymous supermarket chain, Sodastream CEO Daniel Birnbaum and Cofix founder Avi Katz.

Business leaders rarely speak out on politics, given that controversy could alienate customers and hurt the bottom line. The head of a company has a fiduciary responsibility only to his or her shareholders, not to the general public.

“There were quite a few who were afraid to express themselves,” Calcalist editor Amir Ziv said. “They expressed agreement in private conversations but preferred publicly to remain silent.”

Many of the executives say the plan makes little economic sense, as the Eritrean and Sudanese workers are performing jobs that few Israelis want, and many of them are refugees who are unable to return to their home country for fear of death.

“The right solution is also moral, and it will also contribute to the economy,” said Yanki Margalit, the founder of Aladdin Knowledge Systems and chairman of SCREEMO and SpaceIL. “These people are not spoiled, are willing to work hard – and we need people like that. Israel needs a workforce like that.”

Given that the Israeli government has curbed illegal immigration to nearly zero with the construction of the border fence with Egypt, there may be room in the labor market to accommodate several tens of thousands of workers.

Other executives acknowledged that the residents of south Tel Aviv, and those living in the lower-income Hatikva neighborhood, have paid a price with the sudden influx of thousands of foreigners. But the way to solve that was with greater absorption throughout all parts of Israel, they said.

EXECUTIVES who have spoken out include: Dizengoff Center Mall CEO and co-owner Alon Piltz; Electra Consumer Products CEO Zeev Kalimi; Gazit-Globe CEO Chaim Katzman; former Ormat Technologies CEO Yehudit Bronicki; and Shmuel Harlap, chairman and controlling shareholder of Colmobil, Israeli’s leading auto importer as well as the largest private investor in Mobileye, who rarely gives interviews.

Other business people include: Frutarom CEO Ori Yehudai; Altshuler Shaham Group – Asset Management Firm CEO Gilad Altshuler; Orhag Group and Tiv Taam owner Hagai Shalom; Meitav Investment House co-CEO Avner Stepak; Big Shopping Centers CEO Eitan Bar Zeev; Alony Hetz CEO Nathan Hetz; Giora Erdinast, founding partner of major Israeli law firm EBN; and Erez Shachar, managing partner of last-stage fund Qumra Capital.

Banking family scion Judith Yovel Recanati – founder of NATAL, which works with Israelis suffering from trauma after terrorism – spoke to Calcalist, along with Jerusalem Foundation president Ruth Cheshin.

Former High Court of Justice Elyakim Rubinstein also spoke out, along with former Prime Minister’s Office director-general Yossi Kuchik. Tami Raveh, founder and senior partner of one of Israel’s leading commercial firms, Yehuda Raveh & Co, joined the call.

Social-media talkbacks to the petition were far from universally positive, with one commentator slamming the signatories as “wealthy Ashkenazi Jews” out of touch with the residents of south Tel Aviv.

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