Ethical Affairs Minister

It can be stated confidently that Ehud Barak has a sophisticated sense of humor. Otherwise, he would not have dismissed Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog from the ministerial ethics committee and appointed himself to the job.

It can be stated confidently that Ehud Barak has a sophisticated sense of humor. Otherwise, he would not have dismissed Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog from the ministerial ethics committee and appointed himself to the job.

He wanted us to burst out laughing from the very thought that he, Barak, will be the one to dictate to Israel's government ministers the rules regulating their behavior and ensuring their integrity, fairness, efficiency, and stinginess with taxpayer funds.

Herzog could not have imagined that his good friend would remove him in such a public, humiliating fashion, but this is exactly what happened during this week's cabinet meeting. The cabinet secretary suddenly announced that the Labor Party wished to replace Herzog with Barak on the ministerial ethics committee.

Herzog was overcome with shock. He said that the move was conceived behind his back, but he eventually gave up and remarked, "I hope that whoever replaces me will devote the appropriate amount of attention to the issue of ethics."

In his statements, Herzog hinted at the lengthy and growing list of scandals tied to Barak, a list which casts his desire to preoccupy himself with ethics in a ridiculous light.

The last instance of wrongdoing was cited Wednesday in a special report issued by the State Comptroller, who leveled harsh criticism against the defense minister for unscrupulously wasting enormous sums of money on hotels in Paris while the country is in the midst of a serious economic crisis.

One month before the Defense Ministry delegation flew to the Paris Air Show this past summer, the government resolved to slash all room and board expenditures abroad by 25 percent.

Yet this minor detail did not deter Barak and his star-studded entourage. He departed for Paris at the head of an excessively large delegation made up of 50 people, 16 of whom comprised his own personal entourage - as if he were a prince from a Persian Gulf emirate or the head of a banana republic.

Barak's delegation broke all previous records by accruing astronomical expenses (not including meals and airfare) of upwards of NIS 944,000.

In 2007, then-defense minister Amir Peretz headed the delegation to Paris. Peretz's suite cost 1,000 euros per night, and we thought that was excessive. But how can one compare a lightweight like Peretz to Barak the King? Indeed, Barak's royal suite cost 2,500 euros per night, but because the entourage stayed at the hotel just four nights despite the fact that it paid in advance for six nights, the actual sum was 3,750 euros, which equals NIS 20,500 per night, a new record!

This week MK Aryeh Eldad, who heads a parliamentary anti-corruption lobby, appealed to the attorney general as well as the state comptroller to launch a probe into allegations first raised in an expose by Haaretz. The newspaper revealed that since Barak was named defense minister, NIS 6.5 million have been transferred to companies owned by his daughters.

Barak founded these companies in 2002 in order to better manage his international business affairs. In June 2007, he transferred all his shares to his daughter and joined the Olmert government.

Eldad wants to ascertain which services Barak provided in exchange for these payments and to whom these services were provided.

There is, however, a more fundamental question. Is a former prime minister and IDF chief of staff permitted to exploit his past titles to make money? Can he alternate between various jobs which permit him access to state secrets, while providing consulting services in order to "tend to his business"? From an ethical standpoint, this is certainly wrong.

As such, the public needs to know with whom Barak has conducted business. Are they associates who now enjoy entree to the minister and the Defense Ministry? Are they granted access into Barak's bureau by way of a phone call because the minister knows them from his past business dealings? The public is entitled to answers to all these questions, yet Barak remains silent.

By law, ministers are required to submit a declaration of assets to the State Comptroller. The details of the declarations, however, are kept sealed. It is now imperative to reveal the contents of the ministers' declarations to the public in full. They should contain the names of those with whom the minister had business dealings so that the public can determine who acted improperly and who is clean.

Nor have we forgotten the Taurus affair. In 2008, Barak's wife, Nili Priel, founded Taurus Israel Financial Ventures. Priel boasted of how her company served as a conduit for foreign investors to gain access to 800-900 key decision-makers in Israel. Critics claimed that it was her proximity to Barak that drove her business and spawned profits.

Can the Defense Ministry director general refuse a telephone call from Priel, who would like the former to meet with an "important" businessman?

Barak did not receive proper authorization to found the company, and the public criticism compelled Priel to shut down its operations. Yet the appearance of avarice and twisted ethics has left a bad taste.

Even Barak's conduct regarding the state budget raises ethical questions. One cannot speak in flowery speech of the decrepit state of the weaker and poorer sectors of society while at the same time demanding an additional NIS 1.5 billion for the defense budget.

This is an infuriating instance of Barak speaking from both sides of his mouth, and the result is clear: a slash in the social affairs and welfare budget, which is exactly what is happening now.

But Barak has a sophisticated sense of humor. If he is reading this, he is certainly thinking to himself that while the watchdogs keep up their barking, he'll be laughing all the way to the bank.