Howard Epstein



If you were one of the many Israelis hoping to see the back of Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minster (yet still likely to re-elect him) and thought that this column would tell you who his replacement is likely to be, I am sorry to disappoint you. There is no sign of battle-fatigue showing on the Bibi visage and it is still too early to say whether he will ever be indicted for corruption or, indeed, whether, if so indicted, he would resign the premiership. Rather, this column today makes suggestions as to how anyone who aspires to replace him should be going about the business of preparing for an election that could, nevertheless, be sprung at any moment. And that way, I suggest, is: TO CREATE SOME IMPACT!

There are many critics of the PM on the right and the left, but what we have not yet seen are policies that would exhilarate the Israeli public – that would catapult a prime ministerial hopeful into the limelight with vision, optimism and excitement about the future of the country. So let us consider what such a person might embrace, were he or she to hope to take an early lead and then maintain it up to polling day.


The first issue that any Israel politician has to address is security. It is all very well for Netanyahu to feel so good about his relationship with the incumbent in the Oval Office that he can promise more settlements but, for many Israelis, that produces only a big, wide yawn. More important than settlement construction is the continuing thrust from the White House for the Deal of the Century between us and the Palestinians. No settlement-expansion policy assists on that; but there is one way to ensure that we do not have those dedicated to our destruction as our neighbours – apart, that is, from Hamas and Hezbollah/Iran – and that is to row back on the “No Preconditions To Talks” policy that is both a mantra and a political fixture in Israel. There should be a pre-condition to talks and it goes as follows: Drop the anti-Semitism!

The first Israeli politician to speak out against talks with those who reward our murderers will make a name for him/herself. And it will be a good name, for he/she will be saying the obvious: if you do not respect me, do not expect me to give you anything. If you hate me, likewise. If you raise your children to hate me, the same. We are not freiyers, patsies, fall-guys, suckers or mugs and, not being any of those, we have too much self-respect to do business with those committed to our destruction.

The Economy

Then there is the economy. Netanyahu likes to present himself as a Thatcherite reformer because of a little privatisation here and a smidgen of liberalisation there. Not even close! Thatcher broke the power of the unions and then went after vested interests, bringing them to heel. Thatcher privatised the public utilities and she revitalised the City of London – and all British business – by giving the making of money new respectability. Of course, there were many on the Left who resented all that, and still revile her memory, but anyone who lived through the Thatcher years remembers how sleepy British business was before her and how she stimulated it in a way that reverberates nearly forty years on. By comparison with the City of London, Tel Aviv is positively sleepy.

What? You exclaim. Has this column not frequently lauded the Israeli economy and proudly reported GDP growth rates ten times those of other OECD economies? Yes, that is true, but the writer has also observed that Israeli economic success rests on a very narrow platform of hi-tech and military – and little else.

Now there is hard evidence of the profound fragility of the Israeli economy from the World Bank and The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development with a report entitled “Doing Business”.

The fourteenth in a series of annual reports, the latest, out last week, investigates the regulations that enhance or constrain business activity. It claims to present quantitative indicators on business regulation and the protection of property rights that can be compared across 190 economies — from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe — and over time.

Where is Israel in the World Bank league table of 190 countries? At 52nd place! This means that fifty-one modern economies you would respect as such (and some that you would not) sit in the table ahead of Israel:-

New Zealand, Singapore, Denmark, Hong Kong, Korea, Norway, United Kingdom, United States, Sweden, Macedonia, Taiwan, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Australia, Georgia, Germany, Ireland, Austria, Iceland, Lithuania, Canada, Malaysia, Poland, Portugal, UAE, Czech Republic, Netherlands, France, Slovenia, Switzerland, Spain, Slovak Republic, Japan, Kazakhstan, Romania, Belarus, Armenia, Bulgaria, Russian Federation, Hungary, Belgium, Croatia, Moldova, Cyprus, Thailand, Mexico, Serbia, Mauritius, Italy and Montenegro;

and the only ones that were ranked lower than Israel were South American, African or otherwise challenged from within.

Not good enough. Nearly ten years of the liberalising Netanyahu and we still have a moribund economic landscape, drowning in red tape and subservient to vested interests. Were this not so, would we be in 41st place in terms of access to electricity?

Want to see (and suffer) more? Here you are then, but don’t say you weren’t warned:-

Economy – Israel

Ease of Doing Business:   52

Starting a Business:        41

Getting Electricity:         71

Getting Credit:              44

Contract Enforcement:    89

Construction Permits:           71

Registering Property:          126

Protection of Minority Investors:                                           9

Cross-border trading:            59

Insolvency Resolution:           31


This is nothing but a stain on the reputation of the longest-serving Israeli Prime Minister – the one who claims the strength of the economy as his greatest achievement.

The prime ministerial candidate to capture the public’s imagination will be the one who will take on every union and other vested interest that makes doing business in Israel such a primitive, stultifying, enterprise-destroying affair. We have to do better on all the above and we have to go through the pain of the battles required to come out the other side with an ease-of-doing-business position no lower than 20 on the World Bank’s table.

The first attack should be on the regulation of companies. I can buy a ready-made company in London on the Internet before you read to the end of this article – for $70. And I can go online and see the directorships, shareholdings and financial results (in fact everything filed at the Companies Registry) about every UK company, 24/7. Why should it not be just as easy in Israel? Why should Israeli employers (not known for their generosity to their workers) be able to hide their results from the public gaze? That cannot be done in Britain, and it should not be allowed here. Transparency of companies, and ease of their formation, without being held back by VAT registration and other extraneous steps, is essential.

Next, the ability to enforce a contract effectively is crucial to the integrity of the business community. Without that, there is an in-built reluctance to enter into business arrangements. Being preceded in this by 88 other economies is shameful.

Space does not allow but I could go through every one of the results above and tell you – as I am sure you could tell me – how each of them could be improved. This is very important. If all we ever did was survive from war to war, perhaps it would not matter, but Israel is a trading nation and its government must widen commercial opportunities to the whole of its business community by becoming – now what is the word I am searching for? Ah, yes. MODERN. This should no longer be the play area of Ben Gurion and his quasi-communists.

Living Space

The Greater Tel Aviv conurbation is overcrowded, polluted and vulnerable to attack. If you read my blogs earlier this year you will recall a series entitled:

First we made the desert bloom, now let’s make it boom.

What was the thrust? With the advent of ultra-high-speed train travel, city centre to city centre at some 800 miles an hour, just over the horizon, together with non-polluting, driverless cars and 3-D printing of housing modules, a new city 18 minutes south-east of Tel Aviv and about eighty miles north of Eilat, which would have universities, concert halls, night clubs, a beach (along a man-made lake) and everything else that Tel Aviv offers, but without the overcrowding, is a distinct, practical possibility.

Anyone who aspires to be prime minister of this nation should show vision, embrace the future and set out to make room for people to live in a comfortable environment in Tel Aviv, Ramat Aviv, Givatayim, Ra’anana without the jams and the pressure – and the 100 storey towers that are increasingly blighting the landscaper and placing intolerable pressure on the infrastructure that cannot be built into the skies. That can be done by creating an alternative city. Then both would be pleasant places for living in.

Such a plan would also free up welcoming space for many of the half a million French British and Ukrainian Jews who are as likely as not to wish for a less hostile environment, in Israel, as their comfort zones are ever more constricted.

Further down the road, with hostility from the Far Right and most of the Left, more and more of our American cousins are also increasingly going to prefer life here. We should encourage them to send their children to the world’s newest city that we should start planning soon – one that would equal Palm Springs and later Phoenix. What is needed is a visionary prime minister, worthy of leading the country into the third decade of the 21st century, worthy of the Zionists who created this country.

Visionary Zionists

Such far-sightedness came from Theodore Herzl in his 1902 novella: Altneuland in which Theodor Herzl saw Haifa as:

“a great park….with streets bordered with palms … rows of trees served a double purpose. They gave shade by day, and at night shed light from electric lamps which hung from them like enormous glass fruits…. educated young men had become a great blessing for Palestine, for they had brought the latest methods of applied science into the country.”

which became an accurate Herzlian prophesy.

A decade later, Chaim Weizmann had the foresight to insist that Hebrew become the official language of the Haifa Technion. As the alternative to German, twenty years before Hitler came to power, this was truly inspirational. Weizmann went on to lay the foundation stones of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus five years later, having just wrought the Balfour Declaration out of the British in November 1917.

This last weekend fell 120 years after the First Zionist Congress in Switzerland, at the close of which Herzl confided to his diary:-

“At Basel I founded the Jewish state. If I said this out loud today l would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it,”

which was impressively prophetic, for fifty years and three months later, on 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Partition Plan for Palestine and, within another six months, on 14 May 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel in Eretz Yisrael.

Of course, without Weizmann’s extraction from President Truman of three major political concessions, not to say gifts, none of that would have come about. But that is another story – and you can read about it in my newly-released book.

© Howard Epstein September 2017


Chaim Weizmann – The Indispensable Zionist by Howard Epstein is now available, as follows:

Paperback Edition – USA

Kindle Edition – USA

Paperback Edition – UK

Kindle Edition – UK


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