By BERNIE BELLAN
In June 2011, Merrill Lynch released its own “2011 World Wealth Report,” which documented 10,153 millionaires in Israel, an increase of more than 20% from 2009.
While Israel has an astounding number of millionaires – for a country so small in size, an even more impressive number is 13: The number of Israeli billionaires listed in Forbes magazine’s most recent list of the world’s billionaires.
IDAN OFER - Israel's richest man - 161st on Forbes' list of the world's richest people
Many of these billionaires are also noteworthy for their philanthropic contributions, yet some of them have found themselves at the centre of controversies of different sorts.
According to Forbes magazine, “about 20 business groups, mainly family-controlled and structured in pyramid form, own 25 percent of listed companies on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, one of the highest concentrations among developed economies, the Bank of Israel said in its 2009 annual report.”
In another article in Forbes, Israeli billionaires were criticized for putting their interests ahead of bondholders: “Almost all are seeking debt forgiveness from creditors after borrowing costs rose to the highest level in two years and investors questioned their ability to repay. Billionaires Isaac Tshuva and Ilan Ben Dov are pressuring bondholders to accept new terms by offering shares to avoid making cash payments on bonds.
“Israel’s biggest borrowers, who helped build the country of 7.8 million people into an economy that is growing at three times the pace of the Group of 10 nations and delivering the world’s best risk-adjusted stock-market returns, have struggled after losses in real-estate deals overseas. The tycoons control the nation’s 10 biggest corporations, comprising 41 percent of the value of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, data show.”
Yet, the country’s billionaires aren’t the prime forces behind Israel’s recent rapid growth. The truth is Israel’s rapid and consistent growth isn’t necessarily produced by companies owned by the country’s mega-wealthy. The same article in Forbes suggested the growth is “coming from the country’s not-quite-mega-wealthy and would-be Mark Zuckerbergs. In January, Forbes reported that Israel sees $170 in venture capital per person, significantly higher than $75 per person in the US. Increasingly, that money is coming from outside of Israel.”
So, who are Israel’s billionaires? Here they are, in order of their wealth: (Note to Jewish organizations in Winnipeg: “Wouldn’t it be nice to hold a gala in honour of just one of these machers? We’re running short of well-heeled ones here in Winnipeg.”)