JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his finance minister, Yair Lapid, were pilloried by Israeli media on Sunday for their failure to fill the job of central bank chief and their lack of a proper vetting process, after two candidates withdrew.
In what has become front-page news, headlines called the long-running search to replace highly regarded Stanley Fischer a "circus" and Netanyahu and Lapid "clumsy fools".
Netanyahu and Lapid have had months to find a replacement for Fischer, who said in January that he would step down in June, two years early, after spending eight years in the job.
On Friday, Bank Hapoalim chief economist Leo Leiderman withdrew his candidacy two days after being nominated, citing a preference to stay in the private sector.
Israeli media reports said two anonymous phone calls to the head of a vetting committee for senior civil servants that was to approve his appointment, hinted that when Leiderman left Deutche Bank over a decade ago it was not on good terms.
Jacob Frenkel - who ran the Bank of Israel in the 1990s - pulled out this week, calling reports of his being detained at Hong Kong airport in 2006 a "witch hunt". No charges were ever filed and Frenkel said it had all been a misunderstanding.
Netanyahu and Lapid were angered by the rough treatment Frenkel received in the media and said that could deter qualified people from entering public life.
"This story is more embarrassing than it is amusing," wrote commentator Nahum Barnea in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.
"Ultimately, the joke is on our (central) bank, our economy, our government. A miserable combination has been created here between a prime minister who is certain that he knows everything, and a clueless finance minister."
Lapid, a former television presenter who once said he knows nothing about economics, himself joked, "It turns out that economics professors a very colorful and wild bunch."
He told radio stations that choosing a new governor would be done in a considered manner and explained the failure by saying that the state does not employ a private investigator.
Analysts and many lawmakers see Karnit Flug, Fischer's deputy and acting Bank of Israel governor, as the best choice but she said in a letter to bank staff on Sunday: "I intend to serve as acting governor until the appointment of a new and permanent governor and the completion of an overlap period".
Flug, Fischer's choice, has been passed over twice for the top job and resigned after Leiderman's nomination on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Steven Scheer; Additional reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Louise Ireland)