Public spirited

Nir Barkat, richest MK, wants to be paid one shekel per year

Former Jerusalem mayor may have to receive the full MK’s salary, as mandated by law, but says it is ‘a great privilege to serve the public’ pro bono

Likud MK and former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK and former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The incoming Knesset’s richest member, former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, has asked to give up his parliamentarian’s salary and instead be paid just one shekel per year in compensation.

Likud member Barkat made the request in a letter Tuesday to the Knesset’s chief accountant, Haim Avidor, after Avidor told incoming MKs in an orientation seminar earlier in the day that there were procedural problems with MKs choosing not to be paid.

“After 10 years of serving as mayor of Jerusalem for the symbolic salary of one shekel per year, I ask to now set my salary as an elected representative in the Knesset at the same level of one shekel per year,” Barkat wrote to Avidor.

“It is a great privilege for me to serve the public without receiving anything in return, and I am certain that, just as it was possible at the Jerusalem Municipality, I will be able to continue to do so in my position as a member of Knesset.”

Barkat’s refusal to be paid for his public service would not meaningfully dent the self-made multi-millionaire’s financial situation.

In February, the business magazine Forbes Israel estimated the ex-mayor’s net worth at some NIS 500 million ($139 million), making him the wealthiest lawmaker in the new Knesset.

Before entering Jerusalem municipal politics, Barkat and his brother Eli founded an anti-virus firm that they would later transform into a successful high-tech investment fund.

If Avidor finds a way around the requirement to pay MKs the salaries set for them in law — as in other parliaments, Israeli lawmakers set their own salaries via legislation — and assuming the 21st Knesset lasts its full four-year term, Barkat will be giving up a pre-tax salary equal to about 0.4 percent of his current believed net worth over the entire four years.

At the standard MK’s salary of around NIS 44,000 ($12,200) per month, he is expected to earn at least NIS 2.11 million, or some $586,000, over the four-year term, minus taxes, in addition to some NIS 132,000 ($36,700) in earned severance pay over the period.

When he was sworn in on Tuesday, Barkat bumped the outgoing richest MK, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to a distant second place. In its February report, Forbes estimated Netanyahu’s net worth at NIS 50 million ($13.9 million), much of which is believed to have come from consulting work and lectures the premier gave during his 10-year sabbatical from politics after losing the 1999 election.

At third place is Labor party leader Avi Gabbay, a former CEO of the Bezeq telecom giant, with an estimated NIS 29 million ($8 million) in wealth, followed by Likud’s Welfare Minister Haim Katz with NIS 28 million ($7.8 million). Katz was head of the Israel Aerospace Industries workers union before entering politics.

Trailing Katz is Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, a former television host and columnist, with NIS 25 million ($7 million).

Another notable name on the list is former military chief Benny Gantz, now the head of Blue and White, whose net worth was estimated at a relatively modest NIS 8 million ($2.2 million), though the magazine noted this did not include his military pension, which it said could total an additional NIS 20 million ($5.6 million) by the time the 59-year-old turns 80.

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