Shanghaied by Hong Kong
Hebrew media review

Shanghaied by Hong Kong

Jacob Frenkel backs away from the top bank's top spot after a 'misunderstanding' over his duty free purchase seven years ago comes back to haunt him

(From left) Jacob Frenkel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and outgoing Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer at a press conference in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 24, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
(From left) Jacob Frenkel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and outgoing Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer at a press conference in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 24, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

While the rest of the world is going gangbusters over the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, in the Jewish State attention is more focused on a man whose fortunes were felled by a duty free garment bag, if the front pages of the daily papers can be trusted as an accurate barometer of the national zeitgeist.

Jacob Frenkel, only a month ago picked to head the Bank of Israel, announced Monday that he would be dropping his candidacy (which still had to pass some official vetting) because of questions brought up surrounding an affair in Hong Kong seven years ago in which he was allegedly caught trying to make off with an unpaid-for suit bag from a duty free shop. The news leads all four papers, pushing down the hullabaloo in the US over the resumption of peace talks after a three-year hiatus.

Yedioth Ahronoth sets the scene of the dramatic turnaround from Frenkel’s appointment last month to today: “There were a lot of smiles there… when Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid presented Prof. Jacob Frenkel as the next Bank of Israel governor. Who would believe that 37 days later an embarrassing affair would bring the chosen governor to stand in front of TV cameras and announce he was withdrawing his candidacy?”

Frenkel, who was looking to take the central bank’s reins for the second time, told the paper he was none too happy about the accusations, which he says arose from a simple misunderstanding. “I was slandered. They put me up on this spot just based on assumptions,” he is quoted saying.

If Frenkel is innocent, who killed his candidacy? If you ask Israel’s leaders, it’s you, dear people, with your darned opinions.
The paper quotes a letter from Netanyahu and Lapid basically blaming the public (and media) for ruining a good thing. “We are saddened by the announcement of Prof. Frenkel, which is a result of the atmosphere we are in, by which a person is slandered without being given a chance to respond to his charges… In this atmosphere, we are not far from the day when nobody will want to get close to public life.”

Lapid was a bit more blunt on this Facebook page, quoted in Maariv: “What a loss. Frenkel could have been exactly what we needed.… So that’s it, he doesn’t need this, but we needed him. If this public discourse of ours continues to be so violent and lacking in respect, we won’t be able to get anyone to contribute to the country. Isn’t it a shame?”

Despite his warning, there are plenty of people knocking on the door to be the next BoI chief, with Maariv handicapping the race as between Karnit Flug, Avi ben Bassat, Rafi Melnick and Leo Liederman. The paper reports that Lapid is partial to Flug, who is currently acting BoI governor, but Netanyahu is pushing for Liederman. Us? We like mint chocolate chip.

In Israel Hayom, Mordechai Gilat says Frenkel has nobody to blame but himself for his situation, and he should have never been nominated in the first place. “Even if he has better explanations for the confusion abroad, it was wrong to appoint him as governor because of another ethical lapse: A state comptroller report from 11 years ago that found him to have moral turpitude. The harsh report found him getting money from state against the rules,” he writes, recounting that Frenkel ended up with nearly a quarter-million shekels in his bank account, and like now, blamed the affair then on an underling as well.

In Haaretz, which broke the Hong Kong affair, Amir Oren writes that what’s rotten isn’t just Frenkel, but the way he got to be nominated, spraying his fire a bit wildly as he does so.

“Benjamin Netanyahu had months to find an heir to Stanley Fischer. He wasted all his time, just to get to Frenkel as Fischer was leaving.… Netanyahu didn’t vet him, he relied on who he knew, and on his friends from the club of senior officials who don’t like to pay. Yair Lapid acted likewise, then said later, in his typically arrogant and shallow way, that the Hong Kong story was taken from Google. If this were true, you would have expected Lapid to try to prevent further embarrassment to Israel, as if the fact that the people holding the titles of prime minister and finance minister are Netanyahu and Lapid isn’t embarrassing enough.”

From despair springs surprises

Israelis’ confidence in peace talks succeeding is summed up nicely in Yedioth’s headline, which may or may not be sarcastic: “Maybe this time.”

The paper’s Eitan Haber says that yes, this time may be different: “Yesterday was just the first step and the way to the end is still very far away. The guiding assumption is that nothing good ever comes out of talks. But Israeli history has already proven more than once that from hopelessness and despair can sometimes come the needed solution. All we have left is to follow the talks and to pray, each one in his way, for its failure or success. Just like in soccer, here too you can say that any end result will be a surprise.”

As if to prove his point that from despair springs hope, Maariv reports that the EU is taking credit for the resumption of peace talks after it ramped up its pressure on Israel, John Kerry and his frequent flier diplomacy be damned. The paper quotes EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and her British counterpart William Hague telling a conference in Brazil that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas credited them with jump-starting talks.

In Haaretz, op-ed columnist Salman Masalha makes an impassioned plea for leaders on both sides to speak truth to get at the heart of the core issues, and then goes on to blur history by claiming that Israel, while it technically did accept the 1947 Palestine partition plan, really didn’t, thus implying that Ben-Gurion is as much to blame as the Arabs for the lack of Palestinian self-rule over the last 65 years. (And if there is no Palestine there can be no Israel):

“The plan to partition the disputed land into a Jewish and an Arab state was never really internalized by the two adversaries. Both sides continue to claim ownership over the entire land, ignoring the reality which dictates the need for a two-state solution. These claims can only guarantee more blood, sweat and tears for all the inhabitants of this land.… Instead of looking for bonus points in the arena of world public opinion, the leaders of both nations should speak truth to their peoples, in their own languages. The bitter truth is that if two nation-states do not arise here, with all that involves, no state or nation will remain here at all.”

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