Yacimovich: Is sexism to blame for BoI oversight on Flug?

Opposition leader raises specter of sexism in Netanyahu, Lapid’s decision to pass over Karnit Flug to lead the Bank of Israel.

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August 1, 2013 21:21
3 minute read.
Shelly Yacimovich at Labor Central Committee

Shelly Yacimovich at Labor Central Committee 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 
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Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich late Wednesday night raised the specter of sexism in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s decision to pass over Karnit Flug to lead the Bank of Israel.

“Chauvinism? Arrogance? Lack of interest? Simply a puzzling form of decisionmaking?” Yacimovich wrote in a late-night post on her Facebook page. “They want to create some new star? Studies that were too objective when she was an outstanding head of the research division at the Bank of Israel? Maybe all the answers are correct.”

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For the second time in as many months, Netanyahu and Lapid shied away from the historic precedent of making Flug, a front-runner for the position and currently acting governor, the first woman to run the bank.

Since Stanley Fischer’s departure in June, Flug’s prospects were thwarted by the renomination of former governor Jacob Frenkel, who ultimately withdrew his candidacy, and then the selection of Bank Hapoalim chief economist Leo Leiderman.

Upon the second rejection, Flug, who had served as Fischer’s deputy since 2011, announced her resignation from the bank.

Before he stepped down from his eight years as Bank of Israel governor in June, Stanley Fischer made clear that he had full confidence in Flug as a contender to succeed him.

“I would not have suggested appointing a deputy governor I wasn’t convinced could act as governor when necessary,” he said shortly after announcing his resignation.

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Both Knesset Economic Affairs Committee chairman Avishai Braverman and Knesset Finance Committee member MK Gila Gamliel (Likud Beytenu) had publicly expressed support for her becoming the bank’s first female governor.

“So that there won’t be misunderstanding – Dr. Flug and I don’t share a similar economic worldview, just as I disagreed greatly with Stanley Fischer,” Yacimovich wrote. Yet, she still called her “the most talented, qualified woman for the job” and said that “her resignation is understandable and unfortunate, and the shame is theirs.”

But is sexism to blame? “If you’re asking whether there’s a glass ceiling in politics then the answer is unquestionably yes,” says Chen Friedberg, a researcher in the Israel Democracy Institute’s Political Reform project.

A forthcoming study finds that women remain underrepresented in government, particular in the higher echelons. Women represent about 50 percent of the Israeli population, but only fill 20 percent of the Knesset’s seats, and an even lower proportion of its ministerial positions.

While discrimination is hard to rule out, she says, part of the problem is social.

“Women may be less interested in getting ahead because they’re wearing other hats – dealing with the house, watching the children,” she said.

A female source who used to work in the Finance Ministry and remains involved in the financial policy world, agrees that inequality exits, but does not think it is intentional.

“There were incidents at very high-level meetings where it was two women and 18 men, there’s no doubt,” she said. “But I don’t think they look at it that way today. The situation is much better than it used to be. This whole issue of chauvinism is nonsense.”

Leiderman, she said, was chosen because he had stronger experience in the private market, and not just the academic and policy world, as Flug did.

“Yair Lapid is always trying to find women to nominate.”

Friedberg agrees. In the specific case of Flug and Leiderman, she offers, “I wouldn’t suspect that it’s because she’s a woman and he’s a man. It’s hard to tie that specifically to the glass ceiling and the fact that she’s a woman.”

Across the pond, US President Barack Obama faces a similar choice; the front-runners to replace Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke are former Treasury secretary Larry Summers and current Federal Reserve vice chairwoman Janet Yellen.

The battle of the sexes in that race is only heightened by Summers’s history; in 2006 he resigned as president of Harvard after suggesting that women succeeded less often in math and science because they were innately inferior in those fields.

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