Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak - March 13, 2011. Photo by Moti Milrod
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Defense Minister Ehud Barak, possibly the politician closest today to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, came to his defense this week in the affair known as Bibi-Tours. In private conversations with several politicians, Barak described the public and media interest in the funding of flight and hotel arrangements for the prime minister and his wife Sara as "shallow, superficial and fake."

Barak said that if the disclosures made on Channel 10 in an investigative report by Raviv Drucker turn out to be true, then Netanyahu's behavior may have been inappropriate but that the response of the media and politicians has been superficial.

"Why don't they write about other prime ministers - not me - who flew on private planes belonging to the rich while they served in office?" he asked. "Why don't they write about former presidents who did it? What do they want? If they don't want MKs or ministers to fly in private planes, then please establish a binding rule that forbids such flights. As long as there is no such rule, why is it a surprise that they do it?"

In his conversations, Barak did not rule out the validity of publicizing the Channel 10 findings but said the public outcry is "completely out of proportion" and smacks of populism.

There is room for public debate on the matter, Barak acceded, but one that examines the norms of all elected officials without exception. The new rules must apply to everyone, he said.

More than a year ago, Barak was required to repay from his own finances a few thousand dollars after it was discovered that on one of his trips from the United States back to Israel he was upgraded from business class to first class. The Knesset Ethics Committee ruled that even though he has the status of a former prime minister, and El Al automatically upgrades former presidents and prime ministers to first class if seats are available, Barak should have acted according to the rules applying to government ministers.