Who's Responsible?

A long list of senior executives in the American banking industry paid for their firms' enormous losses with their jobs. That is how it is in the U.S.: If you fail, you pay for it with your job.

But at Bank Hapoalim, it works differently. There they are saying that those responsible are no longer working for the bank, so there is no reason to fire anyone.

Former chairman Shlomo Nehama and former head of corporate banking Shai Talmon are being blamed understandably. And they certainly do deserve a lot of the responsibility.

Nevertheless, whoever is pointing the finger at the two is just taking the easy way out. Investment losses are a common risk at banks, but these enormous write-offs are too big for any of the present managers not to accept some of the blame. The truth is that after Nehama left, the bank actually increased its SIV exposure.

The problem is not really the losses, but the way the bank is managed. Hapoalim failed in its investment strategy, in providing timely reports, in having public director Amir Barnea quit in a huff and in the way its present managers fight with their predecessors.

The bank lost its class the day Shari Arison decided to remove Nehama.

Since then, it has been is a downward spiral, and Bank Leumi has now overtaken it as the largest bank in Israel.

The question is not the losses, but whether Dankner and Arison can put the bank back on course.