We don't have to wait for the trial of former Bank Hapoalim board chairman Danny Dankner to establish that this man, who was at the helm of Israel's largest bank between 2007 and 2009, was not an appropriate choice for the post. The indictment against him portrays a bank chairman who encountered personal financial trouble in his own failed businesses and - allegedly - repeatedly mixed the bank's public funds and his personal affairs. The degree of brutality and intensity with which he did this will be sorted out during his trial.
Dankner's conduct at the bank and in his own business ventures, the dependency that he developed on his cousin Nochi Dankner (the controlling shareholder of the IDB group, who until two years ago was the strongest player in the economy), as well as Danny Dankner's financial woes were all known in the capital markets. No one was surprised when the Bank of Israel - Governor Stanley Fischer and the supervisor of banks - demanded that Hapoalim's controlling shareholder remove him as chairman. The surprise was the reaction of those looking after the public interest: Other than Haaretz's business publication TheMarker, which exposed some of his actions, the Israeli press aggressively backed Danny Dankner and vociferously attacked the central bank governor and his banking supervisor.
If Dankner failed to separate his interests, senior journalists also failed to draw a line between their journalistic duty and their connections with Danny and Nochi. The duo had control of about NIS 400 billion of the public's money as well as huge advertising budgets, giving them unprecedented power over the press, publishers, lawyers, accountants, regulators and politicians.
The other watchdogs of the public's interest, think tanks, academia and most politicians, also kept quiet. No one wanted to get into a confrontation with the Dankner cousins, the lawyers and publishers, and instead served the interests of the two, through an obsequious press that sought to promote its own interests. So, for example, in August of last year, leading journalists and editors were spotted at the wedding of Rona Dankner, Nochi's daughter. The case of Nochi-Danny and the press is a reflection of weakness and dysfunction in Israeli journalism. Faced with people who controlled a huge slice of the public's money, the prevailing business and journalistic culture did not permit the press to play its proper role.
The process of dismantling the concentration of economic power in Israel has just begun, but there is no guarantee that there will also be a change in the culture, ethics and the professionalism of most of the press in Israel. The weakening of the press from a financial standpoint doesn't bode well when it comes to serving the public's interests.
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