Family groups wield influence over Israelis [p. 17]

Long past the days of a government-controlled economy, 14 family groups have emerged as having the most influence on everyday life in Israel through their ownership of the country's largest holding companies. "We have seen in the past few years the development of the local economy from one concentrated with government-controlled companies to a modern economy with its growth driven by the business sector," said Reuven Kuvent, general manager of research company Dun & Bradstreet Israel, which released its report Wednesday on the 14 most influential family holdings in the economy for 2006. D&B said it counted companies that have had the biggest influence on the majority of Israeli citizens, listing those with structures across five hierarchies including operations in the banking and insurance, industry, trade, services, and building and real estate sectors. Kuvent said that, while there was a danger of large holding companies exerting too much influence on the public, "the economy had presented a reasonable dispersion of control." Ignoring companies like Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and food company Strauss-Elite, which focused on specific markets, D&B economists said the year was characterized by three leading trends in the business world, which typified the activities of the top 14. The first trend saw changes in the structure of many holding companies due to privatizations of government companies, whereby the State sold its stake in Ashdod Oil Refineries to Zadik Bino, and its shares in Granite Carmel to David Azrieli, allowing the Azrieli Group to extend its reach beyond that of shopping malls. Other significant changes saw Matthew Bronfman divest from the Alon Group, leaving it in the hands of the David Wiessman-Shraga Biran partnership, while the merger of the three cable companies making up HOT saw Yitzhak Tshuva, Eliezer Fishman and Shlomo Eliyahu strengthen their holdings in the telecom industry. D&B added that major government tenders such as Lev Leviev's involvement in the light rail project were other examples how the private sector was exerting its influence on the Israeli public. The second trend saw local companies competing in the international market such as Tshuva's purchasing gas stations in Finland and an insurance company in the US. Similarly, Wiessman-Biran's Alon Group bought oil refineries in the US and Eliezer Fishman upped his marketing activities abroad. D&B mentioned Nochi Dankner (IDB Group), Shari Arison (Bank Hapoalim) and the Ofer Brothers Group (Israel Corporation) as further examples of companies strengthening their holdings through overseas operations. The third trend D&B noted as characterizing 2006 was the interest by foreign groups in local companies as Warren Buffett bought Iscar Corporation and New York-based Shaya Boymelgreen bought into the IDB Group. "Israel has been blessed in the last few years with many additional companies that have de-facto taken control of the economy," Kuvent said. "Their direct influence was recognized by the Israeli consumer and professionals in all sectors."