Losing Frenkel

The line between legitimately vetting candidates and spitefully hounding them can be exceedingly thin.

Jacob Frenkel 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
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 office.
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 disparagement.
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 establishment.
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 abilities.
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 service.
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 foreigner.
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.