At first, there was a feeling of shame in the air. Couldn't we find any suitable economists of our own to fill the post of central bank governor? David Klein? Or Avi Ben-Bassat? Or Victor Medina? Or Amir Barnea? Is no one truly suitable, so that we have to bring in a foreign citizen?
On second thought, there was a feeling of pride. Of mutual Jewish fate. How many countries in the world - or even one - could bring to its borders one of the leading economists of the world, from the depths of the American fleshpots? So really this is no "foreign citizen," but a Jew coming home.
The most basic of Stanley Fischer's qualities is his love of Israel. He visits here twice or three times a year, for academic conferences and to visit friends. He received his Zionist education in his parents' home, where he also learned Hebrew. And with that background, he now wants to make his home in Israel. That's why he's coming here. Zionism.
A little over a month ago, Israel's ambassador to the UN Danny Gillerman approached Fischer about the governorship, but Fischer was not willing. Following that approach, however, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called him up and Fischer replied that they should talk. Ten days ago, Netanyahu brought his name up before Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and he agreed. He was the only candidate that the two agreed upon.
Immediately after the recent holiday break, Fischer broke the news to the Citigroup board, and yesterday at seven in the morning he gave his positive reply to Netanyahu.
Fischer does not know the Israeli economy well. He knows it fleetingly. He was, however, involved in preparing the economic plan that stabilized the economy in July 1985, and he served in the past as an adviser to the Bank of Israel and as a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Meanwhile the economy has since grown and developed, so he needs to do some catching up. Nor is he strongly acquainted with Israeli politics, its undercurrents, party interests, the Histadrut or the manufacturers. His Hebrew is also weak, he doesn't speak it fluently. But all of these things can be learned quickly.
He is considered an economist of global standing, a firmament in the academic universe, both in monetary policies and macro economics. He also understands the global economy very well and is quite au fait with business management, thanks to his current position at Citigroup and his previous post as chief economist of the International Monetary Fund. Fischer also has the reputation of being honest, impartial and straight-forward, and it will therefore be difficult for the politicians to attack his decisions.
Jacob Frenkel, who has known Fischer for years, told Haaretz yesterday: "This is an excellent choice - he has an international professional reputation of the first degree. He is suitable for the Israeli economy at a time of globalization, where his familiarity with international institutionals will be a very important asset."
Fischer believes in the world economy, in competition, in reducing market concentration. In interviews he gave recently, he expressed support for Netanyahu's economic reforms.
"The reforms are moving at the appropriate speed. There are things that have been spoken about for 15-20 years, like Bezeq and the banks, but it is good that things are beginning to move," he said, adding that "taxes in Israel are too high, the welfare system is too large and should be reduced. Nevertheless, other ways must be found to help the weak."
Recently he said that "too-low inflation is as bad as too high," and encouraged Klein to continue with his interest-cutting policy.
Netanyahu may not be pleased to hear that Fischer sees a close connection between the economy and the political situation. He has said that renewing political efforts is of "enormous importance" and that the Israeli economy would not recover from the depths to which it has fallen "without renewing the peace process with the Palestinians."
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