Ephraim Halevy
Ephraim HalevyIsrael news photo: Flash 90

The former head of the Shabak (Israel Security Agency or "Shin Bet"), Efraim Halevy, on Thursday slammed the sale of Tnuva to China's Bright Foods – calling it “dangerous to Israel's national security. Food is a matter of security, not just a matter of money,” he said.

In an interview published on the Kikar Shabbat web site, Halevy said that he knew of many people in the security community who were concerned, or even worse, at the Bright acquisition. Although Tnuva has for several years been majority-owned by a foreign organization – Britain's Apax Partners, an investment firm – Bright Foods is different, said Halevy.

“Bright is owned by the government, and it is the government's dictates that the company will follow, not the dictates of investors,” said Halevy. Considering the fact that China was, in the final analysis, a Communist dictatorship, Israel was taking a major risk in allowing a company like Bright control of its largest food manufacturer. It was notable, he said, that China itself has a law that bans the sale of its own food manufacturers to foreign control.

According to reports late Wednesday, the controlling share of Tnuva has been sold to Chinese company Bright Food, which is to purchase a 56% share of the food giant. Although it operates in Israel, Tnuva has for the past six years been owned by a British investment firm, Apax Partners. Israeli farmers will retain their 21% stake in the company at least for now, although Bright Foods is said to be seeking to buy this part of the company as well. The terms of the deal were not announced.

“Food is a central issue in any country, and a state's most basic obligation is to ensure a secure, safe food supply for its citizens,” said Halevy. “This is a security matter, not a financial matter. The government must ensure that there will be no problem in ensuring a supply of food, from Tnuva or other companies.”

With that, Halevy is not advocating for a ban of the sale. “The deal is done,” he said. “I made my opinion known to all who asked before it was signed. Now we will have to make sure that the food supply is protected.”

Earlier, Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich criticized the deal, citing security concerns as well. 

“What kind of normal country puts its food security in the hands of China,” asked Yechimovich. 

“I appeal to everyone to join in our call for Tnuva to be turned into a public company with shares sold on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange,” Yechimovich said. “This way we, the Israeli people, will benefit, and not the Chinese government.”