(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer has turned down an offer from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to become finance minister, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Fischer, a former World Bank vice president and ex-vice chairman of Citigroup, was asked by Olmert last week to take over the Treasury.
The Bank of Israel declined to comment Saturday night. Olmert, who has been acting finance minister since MK Avraham Hirchson (Kadima) suspended himself for three months in April because of bribery allegations, is expected to appoint a new finance minister in the next few weeks as part of a cabinet reshuffle.
The business community has been urging the government to appoint a full-time minister, saying the economy could not afford to be without a Treasury head with clearly defined powers and policies for much longer, particularly ahead of the 2008 state budget process.
The Prime Minister's Office said it was not aware that Fischer had been approached, adding that the appointment of a finance minister would be on the agenda after Olmert returned from Washington on Wednesday.
Those mentioned as candidates for the post in recent weeks were all Kadima members, including Construction and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit, who served as finance minister in 1999, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, Interior Minister Roni Bar-On and MK Haim Ramon. Bar-On and Ramon were considered to be favored by Olmert.
However the appointment of Ramon, who has been convicted of committing an indecent act against a female soldier, would meet with harsh opposition from women's and civil rights organizations.
"It is clear to us that it would be the worst thing that has ever happened in Israel, if someone convicted of a sex crime became a minister," said Dorit Abramovitch, representative of an umbrella organization of women's groups. "It would give legitimacy to every sex offender to continue carrying on their acts and be rewarded."
Fischer would have given Olmert the option of appointing a finance minister from outside the political system. Instead, it is generally thought likely that Olmert will choose his confidant Bar-On, who was recently rejected as a candidate for justice minister (Ramon's former post) in favor of Prof. Daniel Friedmann, who also came from outside the political system.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.