Jacob Frenkel 370.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s choice in June of Jacob Frenkel to again
head the Bank of Israel (whose governor he was from 1991 to 2000) was lauded as
bold, imaginative and constructive.
Undoubtedly, Frenkel was one of the
more effective BoI chiefs to date and is seen as largely responsible for turning
Israel’s hobbling, inflation-ridden, insular economy into a liberalized, modern
free market. His international renown, moreover, would have endowed him with
authority of the sort enjoyed by Stanley Fischer until his recent departure from
But in no time Frenkel began to draw fierce and unremitting fire.
It is hard to determine whether those who targeted him merely had Frenkel in
their sights or were really gunning for Netanyahu. In the end, however, this
became almost immaterial. The upshot was a noholds- barred campaign of character
assassination. After several weeks Frenkel had enough and withdrew his candidacy
for the post.
The loss is entirely ours and not only because Israel’s
fiscal administration had lost a worthy overseer. Ultimately, no one is
indispensable, but the damage wrought here is far graver than the injury
inflicted on Frenkel’s personal pride.
We are honing the biblical image
of “a land that devours its inhabitants” (Numbers 13:32). Any candidate for
public office can expect obsessive ad hominem attacks of the sort that cruelly
wound and sully beyond all proportion.
This is fast becoming a
disincentive for most talented individuals to give up the private sector’s
material perks for the dubious privilege of inviting unrestrained assaults and
punctilious intrusions into one’s often irrelevant past.
Only the less
qualified or gluttons for punishment would expose themselves to such
The sabotaged 2011 nomination of Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant as
IDF chief of staff comes to mind. That affair was accompanied by incremental
revelations of an ulcerating politicization in the military
Nonetheless, the police was at first loath to investigate,
with Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein relieved to echo the police. It was not
until then-state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss launched a probe that details
of the orchestrated campaign against Galant were exposed. But it was too late
for him. An able general was prevented from continuing to contribute to our
national defense due to petty charges of extending his home without building
permits. Such inconsequential infractions do not detract from his
The same goes all the more for Frenkel’s alleged Hong Kong
airport shoplifting in 2006. It was long ago, came to naught and no prosecution
ever resulted. This cannot be considered an indelible moral stain, certainly not
in a system where an ex-con such as Shas’s Arye Deri is reelected and considered
a potential coalition partner and minister.
True, in some cases moral
failings are cardinal. The example of another past (1976) candidate for BoI
governor, Labor strongman Asher Yadlin, particularly stands out. His
illegitimate financial transactions, bribe-taking and clandestine commissions in
deals with Histadrut labor federation enterprises were hardly negligible factors
and pointed conclusively to a very tainted character.
Nothing of the sort
was even remotely insinuated to regard to Frenkel. The veracity of the
nitpicking tittletattle about him remains unproven. In no other country can such
concerted rumor-mongering be considered tantamount to guilt and grounds for
exclusion from high office.
As a society it is imperative that we abandon
our provincial sanctimony and penchant for pillorying political and other
opponents. We must begin to distinguish between real ethical flaws and trifling
incidentals that do not affect the candidate’s suitability for public
It is important to remember that some dirt can be dug up on most
public figures. There is hardly anyone without sin in the arena. The same
Weinstein, who dragged his feet in probing the anti-Galant collusion, announced
he would be looking into the alleged Frenkel scandal. That, reportedly, was
Frenkel’s last straw. But Weinstein should recall what he experienced following
revelations that his family illegally employed an undocumented
The line between legitimately vetting candidates and
spitefully hounding them can be exceedingly thin. It was flagrantly crossed in
Frenkel’s case – a fact that other worthy nominees cannot overlook – Prof. Leo
Leiderman being the latest among them.