As Defense Minister Ehud Barak continues to be the subject of a torrent of criticism over his extravagant spending on five-star hotels with the use of taxpayer money, Israelis are becoming increasingly aware of the decorated former general's lavish lifestyle.
According to an in-depth expose published on Sunday by the daily Yisrael Hayom, Barak would often use his high-rise luxury apartment in north Tel Aviv to host wealthy captains of industry, billionaire businessmen, influential journalists, foreign diplomats and dignitaries, and politicians whom he lobbies for support.
The newspaper cited one businessman who attended Barak's 65th birthday party. The former prime minister's hedonism has swelled to the point where he is totally disconnected from the average Israeli, the businessman told Yisrael Hayom. There is no chance Barak will return to the premiership, the source said.
The two-page profile quotes a number of individuals on background who attest to Barak's newfound lust for money, and the power and status which is accorded by his wealth.
The former premier, who once boasted of his modest upbringing on a kibbutz and who just 10 years ago seemed to be on the verge of sealing a peace agreement with Syria and the Palestinians, now seems to be "living on another planet," said the newspaper, which is owned by Jewish-American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The newspaper also has a strong pro-Netanyahu line.
Barak likes to regale his guests in the spacious apartment while boasting of his various expensive "toys" and wares, including a sophisticated telescope which he used to peer out onto the city from the 31st floor, according to Yisrael Hayom. Barak this year put the 350-meter apartment in the prestigious Akirov Towers on the market for $10 million.
The defense minister has outfitted his residence with an automated sound and lighting system, electronic shutters, a dining table that can sit upwards of 40 people, and his most prized possession - an easel which holds a large photo album containing meter-by-meter pictures.
The album features a number of interesting figures, including one in particular that Barak likes to observe. It is a photograph of a young Carla Bruni, currently the first lady of France. She is seen in the photograph naked while sitting on her father's lap.
Associates who came into close contact with Barak paint a worrying picture of a man who has developed an unhealthy obsession with money.
"I became nauseous," one visitor, himself an affluent individual who was shocked by the defense minister's lavishness, told Yisrael Hayom. "I felt like I was going to throw up at any minute. I felt like a visitor in [Romanian dictator Nicolae] Ceausescu's mansion."
"It is as if the man has gone insane," the associate told the newspaper. "He lives in another universe, disconnected from the people, dizzied by money, enchanted by money, by power."
"He acts as if he conquered the palaces of Versailles yet he doesn't understand that he hasn't," the associate said. "When someone in the media labeled him Ehud Bonaparte Barak, I burst out laughing. That person did not know how right he was."
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