Payback time

Frenkel’s explanation was good enough for America's largest bank JPMorgan Chase & Co where he currently serves as chairman of JPMorgan Chase International.

By SHIRLEY ZAUER
August 7, 2013 23:13
Jacob Frenkel

Jacob Frenkel 370. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 
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In the tens of thousands of words that have been written about the variously called Bank of Israel “saga,” “fiasco,” “debacle,” and other like descriptions, both here and abroad, we find much innuendo mixed with supposition, topped with solemn, doom-laden pronouncements, and a few kernels of truth.

So what are those tiny kernels and what can we glean from them? The Hebrew papers by and large lynched the first candidate for governor of the BoI, Jacob Frenkel, and the roots of the assassination probably lie in his previous stints as governor. In order to carry out the deed, they seized on an incident that they portrayed as shoplifting, which would have been laughable if the ending had not been so brutal.

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The facts appear to be that in 2006 Frenkel tried to take an item of luggage out of a duty free store, leaving a colleague to pay for the item because he was rushing to catch a flight.

Sounds plausible? It does to me, and obviously did to the authorities in Hong Kong where the incident took place because, according to a report in one of the Hebrew papers yesterday, though he was initially charged, the indictment was withdrawn two months later. Frenkel’s explanation was good enough for America's largest bank JPMorgan Chase & Co where he currently serves as chairman of JPMorgan Chase International.

He also serves as chairman and CEO of the Group of Thirty (G-30), a nonprofit, consultative group on international economic and monetary affairs..

Regardless of Frenkel's international standing, our intrepid members of the fourth estate, which won't let the facts get in the way of a good story, had no compunction in relentlessly using the incident against him to destroy his chances of appointment. One can only guess that during his previous stints as governor of the BoI he rubbed some feathers the wrong way and now it is payback time.

This doesn’t hold true for the innocuous Prof. Leo Leiderman, whose main “crime” was that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it was perfect timing for our carnivorous press to once again chomp on our prime minister, their favorite bête noir.



Regardless of whether the flurry of allegations aimed at the hapless Leiderman are true or not, it bears saying that, if accurate, his alleged fascination with astrology would have returned to haunt him, and us, time and time again. He would have been the constant butt of jokes, thereby making it hard to take him seriously and would, further, have diminished the status of one of our premier national institutions. Not fair, but predictable and damaging.

Now we come to the most curious case of the prime minister’s pointed avoidance of doing the obvious, giving the job to former deputy and current acting governor of the BoI, Dr. Karnit Flug, who was recommended by outgoing BoI governor Stanley Fischer to be his successor.

There has been some finger-pointing at the dearth of women in key positions in Netanyahu’s various bureaux, chatter intended to imply a gender bias on his part.

I believe that there is nothing so sinister afoot. As a devotee of the principle of Occam’s razor, that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one, I believe that Bibi the man decided long ago that discretion was the better part of valor, and certainly of shalom bayit (literally translated as “peace in the home”). It may be as simple, and sad, as that.

As far as Flug is concerned, Netanyahu is reported as stating that they do not share the same economic vision. Klug herself made this very clear in the 1990s when she wrote in an article that Netanyahu was not responsible for Israel’s economic recovery following the meltdown caused by high inflation and high interest rates. Bibi was miffed and now it is his turn for payback. Klug should not be surprised – in politics, a week may be a long time, but politicians’ memories are much longer.

It is unfortunate that portentous decisions that impact the individual and collective lives of a nation are often made – or not made – for the most petty of reasons. We need look no further than the recent past when Netanyahu dragged out coalition negotiations following January’s Knesset elections until the eleventh hour because he (and his wife) had fallen out years earlier with one of his principal potential partners.

The end result was inevitable – he had to bring Bayit Yehudi and Naftali Bennett into his government, but he paid a ridiculously high price for his pettiness and obstinacy. He was forced to align with the six-seat Hatnua party and relinquish two precious ministerial positions at an early stage in the process, thus alienating many in his own party and leaving him with fewer bargaining chips for the continuing negotiations, which included, as a primary demand, the downsizing of government.

His ongoing, and inexplicable, obsession with keeping the haredi parties in his governments is another case in point. He is surely aware that governance is far easier without the constant, usurious demands of parties that are only concerned with the narrow interests of their constituents, often to the detriment of the wider national interest. He must also know that he will never lose the support of those parties in the long-term because he can always get them back on board at a price, which he has hitherto shown he is willing to pay.

It is a sorry situation that, on the one hand, we are held hostage by media that seriously suffer from both the “tall poppy” syndrome which relishes cutting the talented and famous down to (their) size and from a mindless compulsion to attack right-wing leadership at every and any opportunity, irresponsibly torpedoing any appointment it might make, while on the other hand we are headed by a gifted but deeply flawed leader who consistently allows personal considerations to impact deleteriously on good governance and sound decision-making. We deserve better.

The writer is a journalist and editor living in Jerusalem. She made aliya from Australia in 2000.

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