The privacy bugaboo has struck twice at the summit of Israel''s government.
Two nominees for the important post of Governor of the Bank of Israel have had to withdraw their candidacy after embarrassing details began circulating in the media.
One had been caught leaving a Duty Free shop in the Hong Kong airport without paying for a garment bag. He held on for a couple of weeks, saying it was all a misunderstanding, but was tripped by a sloppy cover-up. The story he told was plundered by journalists who found more holes than substance. It might have been better to have admitted guilt, and explained it with a simple story that payment "slipped my mind when I was preoccupied."
The second withdrew less than a week after the first, and within two days of being nominated. The revelations about him dealt with consulting an astrologer, and a charge of sexual harassment while working for a major international bank.
The nominee insisted that he sought advice from an astrologer only on personal and family matters, and not on anything professional. None the less. the Governor controls interest rates and advises the government on all economic matters. The nominee is well credentialed with a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago and a list of professional positions in banking as well as a professorship at the University of Tel Aviv. But who wants an expert in reading the heavens advising the head of the national bank?
We may never know for sure whether sexual harassment or astrology was the a more serious problem of this nominee, insofar as he withdrew without enduring any official determinations of unsuitability. There are allegations that the charge of sexual harassment, and well as additional assertions that he had problems with tax authorities, and had a spotty management record were fabrications, or not weighty enough to disqualify the candidate, but they managed to get headlines.
An item in the internet edition of Ha''aretz began, "Farce of the Governor''s Appointment; Another Candidate Falls--Onward to the Next Victim."
Several questions pertain to both withdrawals of candidacy. We might applaud the likelihood that personal errors, weaknesses, or follies are out there for all to see. We might also yearn for serious inquiries about qualifications and disqualifications, conducted in private to protect candidates from unfounded rumors. Yet the free enterprise of competitive media makes discretion unlikely. Qualified candidates for top appointments turn down the opportunities rather than face the possibilities of unfriendly campaigns.
Soon after the second candidate withdrew, Yair Lapid--the Finance Minister who shares responsibility with the Prime Minister for making nominations to the position of Governor of the Bank of Israel--wrote, "It is apparent that professors of economics are very colorful and unpredictable. I yearn for people who are solid and stable, like Yatzpan and Baraba (two Israeli comedians).
Both cases titillate those antennae that vibrate in the presence of juicy gossip, but also lead us to ponder the limits of acceptable behavior, as well as the ethics of responsible media. Or what personal sins or foibles are sufficient to disqualify a candidate for an important position.
The borders are fuzzy, vary from place to place, and change with the times.
Would someone with John F. Kennedy''s sexual drives be outside the running for the presidency now that the media is not reluctant to report on what was considered private in 1960?
Bill Clinton''s escape from impeachment keeps that question in the realm of the obscure.
The issue of astrology is no less clear, but raises some interesting questions about what may be improper in a Jewish country, albeit one with a substantial Muslim minority and lots of Jews who do not observe religious laws,
There are several passages in the Hebrew Bible that condemn witchcraft, magic, sorcerers, enchanters, those who communicate with the dead, interpret omens, or worship the sun, moon or other heavenly bodies. (See Exodus 22,.Leviticus 19, Deuteronomy 17, 18, 2 Kings 21) They do not explicitly condemn astrology, but come close.
All of these references fit within the notion of a jealous God, who on several occasions condemns those who follow other gods.
Daniel 2:27 has been translated to say that wise men, enchanters, magicians, and astrologers are unable to reveal secrets, but there is some doubt about the derivation of "astrologers" from the Aramaic גזרין.
Less problematic in Israel are those who pursue the meaning of God''s intentions via devices with considerable following among religious Jews, and some Jews active in business or government who are not overtly religious.
Once again we are at the borders of defining Judaism, and left with nothing clearer than Judaism is what Jews do.
Kaballah, gematria, and the advice given by charismatic rabbis may be kosher, even though they are as problematic intellectually as astrology.
Israelis are generally tolerant of those who violate religious law. To be sure, there are Orthodox Jews who will not see--and thereby avoid saying Hello--to an acquaintance seen driving or listening to music while walking on the Sabbath, and individuals considerably more extreme who curse and even strike out at women and girls who insist on sitting near the front of a "glatt kosher" bus or walking on the wrong sidewalk. For the most part, however, Israeli individuals and government bodies accept substantial variations from what others see as Biblical law. Just to cite one example among many, the IDF promoted an acknowledged homosexual to the rank of general long before the US military considered acceptance of homosexuals at any ranks.
But reliance on astrology, or perhaps a man accused of sexual harassment, or an accused shoplifter who cannot tell a convincing story at the peak of the national economy? Those appear to be outside the fuzzy borders of what is acceptable in Israel.