Middle Israel: Person of the Year

Middle Israel Person of

Our Person of the Year could have been, but isn't, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz. Who else, anywhere, has indicted a president, prime minister, finance minister and justice minister as well as several less prominent public figures? After initially letting Ariel Sharon get away with what many believe was bribery, Mazuz demonstrated the kind of resolve many doubted he possessed, and an impartiality that has put to shame the legal system's many detractors. With Ehud Olmert, Haim Ramon and Avraham Hirchson indicted, Shas's howls that its representatives are being singled out for their Middle Eastern origins impress no one (and this is besides the fact that Mazuz's family hailed from Tunisia). Mazuz has sent the whole world the message that Israel is no banana republic. That is what the system over which he presides effectively told Siemens Corporation, which allegedly bribed an Israel Electric Corporation executive whose extradition Mazuz has now demanded from Peru, and this even though he was once a judge and is also former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak's son-in-law. And yet, we cannot name Mazuz Person of the Year for the prosaic reason that by the beginning of 5769 the tide he helped gather had already turned. Between last Rosh Hashana and the one before it, our persons-of-the-year were Moshe Talansky, who spilled the beans on Ehud Olmert, and "Alef," the woman who did the same to Moshe Katsav. This time a year ago Katsav, Olmert and Hirchson were already at various stages of the journey from the corridors of power to the defendants' dock. And Ariel Sharon's son, Omri, had already served time. And so, 5768 was not the year of the legal system, and Mazuz is not our Person of the Year. OUR PERSON of the Year is also not Binyamin Netanyahu, and for reasons that are the inversion of what made us disqualify Mazuz; the latter's impact had already been made prior to 5769, while Netanyahu's, as of this writing, has yet to arrive. True, from what he has demonstrated since returning to power Netanyahu has matured - in style, tactics and strategy, too. He is more measured in the quantity and tone of his public appearances, his alliance with Labor seems like a political stroke of brilliance, and his adoption of the two-state formula equals the crossing of a diplomatic Rubicon. Then again, the significance of all these is for now more biographical than historic. Yes, it's a different Bibi, but for now it is pretty much the same Israel he inherited, with the same Iranian threat abroad and the same crime crisis at home. Should there be a year in which we will see any of these transformed, or even just the dramatic railroad upgrade he has promised, or the tax cuts, or the drastic decline in housing prices that his land reform is supposed to generate, Netanyahu will be the Person of the Year. Maybe then our Person of the Year is someone who personifies the bad things we have been through? A stabber, a hoodlum, a burglar, a corporate raider or an executive who fired the assembly-line workers whose product he had no idea how to manage? Not really. Fortunately, we still roam the streets of our cities confidently, and we still don't get mugged in the middle of Israel. Yes, there have been some chilling murders, but they shook the country and remained exceptions. And as for the economy, with all due respect to its less pleasant parts, 5769 was a year of economic accomplishment against all odds. In fact, that was the year's main claim to fame, and there was one man who presided over it: Stanley Fischer. THE GOVERNOR of the Bank of Israel has navigated our economy to safety through the global economy's worst crisis in 80 years. Fischer did several things. First, when the crisis began, he cut interest rates ahead of other central banks, thus making it plain that he was prepared to be flexible on monetary policy, despite his stereotyping as a monetarist who cared for nothing other than rock-solid currencies. Then, and most inventively, when faced with an excessively strong shekel Fischer began buying dollars - $100 million every day. That move was so bold that under other circumstances it would have been considered gambling. But the times were harsh, with pillars of the international economy collapsing by the week. Fischer therefore figured to interfere in currency trading, as the economy depends for its life on exports, and the exporters were earning cheap dollars while paying salaries in expensive shekels. And that worked. The dollar gradually appreciated, and the recession here remained mild and brief. Unemployment, while having risen, remained lower than elsewhere, the financial markets rehabilitated and the public's long-term savings mostly returned to their pre-crisis values. Last month in fact it emerged that the Israeli recession had not only started later than others, it also ended earlier, having lasted a mere two quarters, thus giving Fischer reason to once again emerge ahead of the game, this time by raising rates before the rest. Sure, there are holes in this picture as much of it, particularly the dollar's weakness, is beyond Fischer's control, but on the whole he has kept our economy stable, our savings valuable, our income secure and our money solid. Fischer also offered an island of stability in a landscape where senior civil servants revolve as dizzyingly as the politicians who appoint them, thereby making long-term policy an oxymoron. Fischer has shown how much an able professional's presence in the thick of a complex situation can offer the impartiality, poise and commitment its treatment demands. Lastly, Fischer has been a Zionist inspiration. It didn't go without saying that this world-renowned economist would join us for a salary that is but a fraction of what he could earn between Manhattan and Canary Wharf. That he has joined us, and now speaks to us in wonderful Hebrew, sends a message to other Jews in the world's financial industry to consider relocating here, whether for ideology, expediency or both. Fischer has yet to decide whether to stay for a second term, thus transforming a stint into an era. But even if he doesn't, he still will be recalled as the man who defied the turbulence of a global economic crisis, an intractable Middle East conflict and a chronically ill Israeli political system, by offering leadership when it was needed most. That is why he is our Person of the Year. www.MiddleIsrael.com