Barak: Bibi-Tours allegations 'superficial and shallow'
Defense minister claims allegations that PM Netanyahu accepted funding from private businessmen for trips for himself and his family while in public office are fueled by political agendas.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak slammed the public for its obsession with "Bibi-Tours" in an interview with Israel Radio Thursday, calling it "superficial and shallow."
He continued, saying "I can tell you that prime ministers and opposition heads in the present and past have flown in people's private planes."
The defense minister was referring to allegations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recently aired on Israel's Channel 10, claiming that the Israeli leader accepted funding from private businessmen for trips for himself and his family while in public office.
"I would not be surprised to hear that there are political interests behind the allegations," Barak said in the interview, "there are political agendas, that may be personal and linked to the media."
The defense minister continued, saying "it is time to end this and announce: 'from this day on, it won't happen', but there is no reason to attack the prime minister as if no one ever did this before."
Barak added that the State Control Committee is behaving in a juvenile manner, and its head, Yoel Hasson, is behaving like a "political clown".
"The whole case has become superficial and hostile in 'Big Brother' [a reality television show] fashion, " Barak said to Israel Radio, adding "when watching TV it's fine, but not when running a country."
The defense minister then attacked the opposition party, saying "what right does Kadima have to speak? It is a party that is a total failure. They are forcefully trying to get a convicted criminal [Haim Ramon] into the government."
Barak then angrily told Israel Radio that Kadima is a party "that is the opposition, yet has more seats than any other party, and that is insolence."
The prime minister has also refuted the allegations against him, calling them on Wednesday an "orchestrated and organized slander campaign" against him.
The remarks, in which Netanyahu responded publicly for the first time to reports by Channel 10 about the funding sources for the his overseas trips, were made in an interview that was broadcast on Channel Two and on YouTube, in which he answered recorded questions from web surfers all over the world.
"We're talking about all kinds of stories, most of them baseless and contaminated by hypocrisy. There are journalists that do not like that I am prime minister and are trying in their way to change that," Netanyahu said.
"I want to let those journalists know: It won't help you any, it's malicious and its hypocritical and I will be here for many years and I won't change my positions. Nothing was funded illegally," Netanyahu continued.
Netanyahu contended that the media treats him with a double-standard, and that other prime ministers, presidents, ministers, and members of Knesset acted in the exact same way.
"It's infected by hypocrisy, because every year there are hundreds of trips by members of Knesset, ministers and former prime ministers. There is a standard for trips. The standard for previous prime ministers and previous presidents is acceptable, and is no different from Clinton or Blair," Netanyahu said. "Others did not fly charter or stay at youth hostels."
Netanyahu denied that his trips were funded by foreign businessmen. "I was not invited by donors or private individuals. It's all distorted," Netanyahu emphasized.
"Why? You don't fly to a private function, you fly to public functions by groups that want to help Israel, or the poor, or immigrants. It's not for private use. These are not private trips," Netanyahu said. "Who will pay for them? Donors. Who funds the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel's Soldiers? Donors."
According to Netanyahu, the Channel Ten investigation and the media's dwelling on the story is an attempt to harm him. "The truth will come out," he said. "You cannot hold me to a double-standard. Everyone traveled with their wives. The worst part is that in order to harm me, they automatically aim for my wife, threateningly and unfairly."
"Many journalists and many journals. As this poison spreads, my wife Sara is a child psychologist and goes into schools, goes to work, help kids in need," Netanyahu added. "The mothers and the children love her. And her colleagues ask her, 'Sara! What are they doing to you?'"