Minister of Industry and Economy Nir Barkat on Tuesday told 94FM, “The market in Israel is one of the most centralized in the world.”
Under Minister Barkat, the Consumer Protection Authority in the Economy Ministry has been more active than ever before against economic cartels and monopolies. It recently announced its to impose an unprecedented financial sanction of NIS 111 million ($30 million) on the food producer and marketer Strauss, subject to a hearing, for an alleged violation of the competition laws in its merger with the Weiler Farm health food producer. Consumer Protection accused the two companies of effectively acting as one entity even before their official merger (Economy Minister Barkat Plans to Break Down the Strauss Conglomerate).
“The monopolies think there are no alternatives,” Barak said. “But as soon as you bring alternatives you take them down. They need to understand that the public is not in their hands, they will have to bring down their prices.”
Barkat announced on Monday his decision to reduce the prices of cheeses in Israel by dozens of percentage points by opening the market to up to 5,050 tons of cheeses imported duty-free from abroad, News12 reported. The previous limit was 600 tons.
A month ago, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich dealt with intentional milk shortages by cutting customs on imported liquid milk.
According to Forbes, in 2013, Barkat’s net worth was estimated at NIS 450 million ($122 million), more than the combined value of the next three politicians on the list, making him the wealthiest Israeli politician. It makes him almost invincible when it comes to facing the country’s wealthiest corporations and their billionaire owners.
“I get threats, but I don’t owe anyone anything, I don’t lack anything,” Barkat told 94FM. “For example, they activated people within the Likud to threaten, among other things, not to vote for me in the primaries. Or you suddenly see all kinds of investigations against me in a certain financial newspaper… I think the public understands that this is their motivation, and it doesn’t bother me, I have strong backing from the Prime Minister and the entire government.”
In February 2015, Barkat received international attention when, as Mayor of Jerusalem, he intervened when an Arab man was trying to stab a Jewish victim. Barkat charged in and physically subdued the attacker, with the Mayoral security detail following him. Barkat then remained to make sure the victim received medical attention.