Ministers Doubled Number of Trips Abroad in Past Decade

Many of the trips were financed by external organizations, some were unauthorized or involved apparent conflicts of interest.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Prime Minister Netanyahu and Minister Yuval Steinitz on a plane.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Minister Yuval Steinitz on a plane.Credit: GPO
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

In the past decade, government ministers have doubled their trips abroad, sometimes at the expense of external organizations, the state comptroller’s report published yesterday shows.

No government refused a travel request by one of its members during the period. Spouses were often added to trips financed by foreign bodies, which contravenes regulations regarding the receiving of gifts while in office.

Two presidential candidates, Dalia Itzik and MK Meir Shitreet, took their spouses on such trips without receiving the required approvals. Shitreet’s wife’s office was involved in inviting him to an event in New York. In other cases, there were apparent conflicts of interest between the organizations funding the trips and the ministers.

Exceptionally, this chapter of the report omits the results of an investigation into the travels of Benjamin Netanyahu when he was finance minister. The investigation was based on a report by Television Channel 10’s Raviv Drucker, who exposed 16 apparently problematic trips. For example, Israel Bonds paid repeatedly for Netanyahu’s family’s travel to the United States. The organization apparently paid tens of thousands of shekels for trips by Netanyahu’s wife and children. Further investigation by the comptroller was thwarted when the attorney general launched his own investigation into the matter.

The report shows that the second Netanyahu government holds the record for foreign trips, with 60 percent more than previous governments. Travel at the expense of foreign organizations doubled to 28 percent of trips in comparison to previous governments. The comptroller criticized the approval process for such trips, stating that never was there any objection to a request by a cabinet member. Trips at the expense of foreign organizations were legally approved without any examination of potential conflict of interest. Netanyahu had a private plane belonging to a friend at his disposal on several trips, but there are currently no guidelines regarding using the private planes of companies or individuals.

The comptroller singled out former ministers Meir Shitreet and Dalia Itzik, currently contenders for the presidency. Their spouses apparently accompanied them on several trips that were funded by outside organizations, without obtaining approval from the Gifts Committee. The comptroller warned that financing travel could be construed as a concealed gift.

Itzik retorted to the comptroller that the government never established clear guidelines about bringing family members on any kind of travel. She said that in the past, “only government approval was required, with no further approval for adding family members.” MK Shitreet said it was never necessary to apply to an ethics committee in addition to getting cabinet approval. He added that approval of gifts never related to travel and that he usually paid for his wife’s ticket when she accompanied him, with the exception of trips financed by the Jewish National Fund or the Jewish Agency.

The comptroller also criticized Shitreet because a company owned by his wife was involved in inviting him to a commercial event while he was on official business in the U.S. Shitreet responded that he was in the US anyway and did not benefit from lecturing at that event.

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