After String of Failures

Netanyahu Eyes Argentine Economist as Top Candidate for Bank of Israel Governor

Mario Blejer, who studied and later taught at Hebrew University, leads Netanyahu’s list of nominees for job.

Mario Blejer, who briefly headed the Central Bank of Argentina a decade ago, reportedly is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's latest preferred candidate for governor of the Bank of Israel following the abortive appointments of Jacob Frenkel and Leo Leiderman, each of whom bowed out after allegations of past scandals surfaced.

Blejer's was one of four names Netanyahu presented to the Turkel Committee that evaluates the candidates’ fitness for the post. The prime minister then decides among those who past muster.

The other three candidates are Zvi Eckstein, a former deputy governor of the Bank of Israel; Finance Ministry Accountant General Michal Abadi-Boiangiu; and Victor Medina, a veteran Bank of Israel and treasury official.

Although Blejer is reportedly the leading candidate, his name has not come up in past speculation about whom Netanyahu might nominate.

Born in Cordoba, Argentina 65 years ago, Blejer is no stranger to Israel, having emigrated from Argentina when he was 20. At Hebrew University he got a bachelor’s degree in economics and Jewish history, then a master’s degree in economics, before getting his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Chicago - the same school where Frenkel and Leiderman got their doctorates. Blejer taught for several years in the 1980s at Hebrew University and worked at the Bank of Israel. In 2002, when he served for six months as Argentina's central banker, he visited Israel and gave a well-received address at the Bank of Israel.

Blejer worked at the International Monetary Fund for 21 years, serving in top positions, including as senior adviser on European and Central Asian affairs. He played a key role during Russia's economic crisis in 1998.

Independent streak

He was appointed to the top job at the Central Bank of Argentina in January 2002 at a time when the country was undergoing one of the most severe financial crises of its history, and was effectively bankrupt. But he stepped down in June of that year amid differences of opinion with the government’s economy minister over the central bank’s independence.

Since then Blejer has served in a number of senior positions in the world economic policymaking establishment, among them at the Bank of England.

Netanyahu’s reported second choice for governor is Eckstein, who stepped down as deputy governor in 2011 after a five-year stint to become dean of Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center's economics school. Eckstein, 64, has a doctorate from the University of Minnesota and was an economics professor at Tel Aviv University.

Abadi-Boiangiu, 46, is by far the youngest of the candidates. She has been accountant general for 28 months, where she has gained the respect of Netanyahu and Finance Minster Yair Lapid. She is the first woman to have ever held the senior treasury post and is considered a powerful figure in the ministry. Previously, Abadi-Boiangiu was deputy director general at the Health Ministry, and head of MI Holdings, the state-owned bank holding company where she led the privatization of Israel Discount Bank and assisted in the sale of Bank Leumi. However, her big disadvantage in the race for governor is that she is not an economist by training.

Medina, 74, is the oldest of the candidates and was in the race for the job in 2005, when Stanley Fischer was chosen. Medina was part of the Bank of Israel management in the 1980s, when he was responsible at various times for credit, monetary policy and foreign currency.

He left the bank in a dispute with then-Governor Michael Bruno. Medina went on to become Finance Ministry director general under Moshe Nissim for two years, and has since served in senior economic posts, among them as chairman of what is now Mizrahi Tefahot Bank.

Bloomberg