Farewell, Fischer
Hebrew media review

Farewell, Fischer

Bank of Israel governor's resignation prompts media mourning and speculation

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer(photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer(photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

The Israeli press has money on the mind with the sudden and unexpected resignation of Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer on Tuesday, two years before the end of his term as chief of the central bank.

Yedioth Ahronoth, whose headline reads “The irreplaceable governor,” reports that Fischer’s stepping down two years before the end of his term is a “painful blow to the Israeli economy and a great crushing blow to [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s future coalition.”

It reports that Fischer had professional disagreements with Netanyahu and speculates he likely did not vote for Likud-Beytenu or Yesh Atid, whose economic ideologies he disagrees with. It also speculates that Fischer could serve as an Israeli “Ambasador [sic] at large,” but wouldn’t represent a right wing government abroad.

The paper praises St. Fischer for “raising the fortunes of our economy to record heights” and being the greatest central bank governor in the world, who “actively protected the Israeli economy in its toughest hours.” Its praise of the retiring bank chief reads more like a obituary than an assessment of his term in office.

Israel Hayom reports that rumors suggested in August that Fischer might resign early, and that other rumors hinted at the possibility that Fischer was a candidate to succeed President Shimon Peres when his term in office ends in 2014. It quotes Netanyahu thanking Fischer for his dedication and service and telling him, “I told you eight years ago that this is a difficult, challenging position, but you can do great things with it for the sake of the Israeli economy.”

“Today you believe me. I know that we all see that you contributed a unique gift to the Israeli economy,” he said, adding that Fischer may be called on in the future to help Israel despite his retirement plans.

Columnist Dan Margalit waxes poetic in calling Fischer “a fighter in the service of the sons of light,” adding that his resignation is accompanied by “woe and worry.”

“His eight years as governor of the [central] bank was an asset to Israel in every international economic arena,” he writes. “Now, as expected, the opposition will claim that his resignation is a slap in the face for the government’s policy, even if it denies it.” The reality, he admits, is that “the Israeli economy is entering a period of difficulties and [budget] cuts, and unfortunately [Fischer] will not be there to pilot the fiscal policies of the central bank.”

Haaretz also talks money matters in regards to the forming of the next coalition. The paper reports that the Yesh Atid party demands that Netanyahu grant it the stewardship of the Knesset finance committee in addition to the “socioeconomic offices, including the Housing and Construction Ministry” as part of a coalition deal.

“The committee is the most important in the Knesset because it controls the flow of government funds,” the paper quotes Yesh Atid sources involved in the coalition talks saying. “The committee controls the state budget and taxes, and its chairman is considered just as important as a minister.”

Haaretz’s op-ed questions the timing of Fischer’s resignation. “Is it a vote of no-confidence in Netanyahu and [Finance Minister Yuval] Steinitz? After all, Fischer wants next year’s deficit to be 2.5 percent, not 3 percent, but the two would not accept his opinion.”

It raises the issue Fischer’s “scathing criticism” of the budget deficit and insistence that budget cuts and higher taxes will be necessary to balance the government checkbook, despite what Netanyahu and Steinitz say. “Perhaps he simply wants to return to the United States, to his children. Maybe he got a great job offer abroad. Maybe it’s all of the above,” it writes.

Haaretz writes that the most important thing is getting someone as qualified as Fischer to replace him.

Maariv opts to lead with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein’s decision to open a criminal investigation against former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi. It reports that while the investigation will be limited in scope and will be conducted “within a military framework and in conjunction with civilian legal authorities,” there is the possibility that it could be broadened and involve other IDF officers.

The paper quotes sources close to Ashkenazi and his former aide, Erez Weiner, condemning the military prosecutor for “pressuring [Weinstein] to open a criminal investigation” into their alleged misconduct. “A source informed of particulars says that [chief military prosecutor Maj.-Gen. Dani] Ephroni is still mad at Ashkenazi because [Ashkenazi] didn’t appoint him chief military prosecutor when he was chief of staff.”

Maariv also reports that Netanyahu told a conference on Tuesday that Israel is capable only of setting the clock back on Iran’s nuclear program, and hinted that only American military power can stop it entirely. Netanyahu also suggested, the paper writes, that the US can only destroy Iran’s nuclear capability before it breaks 20 percent enrichment, after which point it will be impossible.

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