Give Back the Money

They say the first thing former French president Charles de Gaulle did after taking office was to install water and electricity meters in his official apartment, so that his personal expenses would come out of his salary and not out of the presidential budget. It is a pity that when Defense Minister Ehud Barak went to the Paris Air Salon in June, he took a very different French leader as his model - Louis XIV.

The state comptroller's report on the cost of the defense establishment's delegation to the Paris event reveal that Barak stayed in one of the most expensive suites in Paris - meaning one of the most expensive in the world. While delegations from proper Western countries stayed in relatively modest hotels, Barak the First looked out over the Paris Opera House from the windows of his many rooms at Le Grand Hotel, occupying a suite where the wife of Napoleon III once stayed.

The cost of Barak's stay was 2,500 euros a night; the total cost of the junket was NIS 994,000. At least one-third of this stupendous sum could have been saved if the Defense Ministry had treated the taxpayer's money with greater respect.

The public norms of Israeli politicians have thereby reached a new nadir. As detached as the kings of France were from the masses, our ministers have become used to staying in fine hotels and sending the bill to the taxpayer. The same can be said of former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik, who, according to the state comptroller, stayed in a suite at the Bristol Hotel in Paris at a cost of NIS 11,000 a night.

The Defense Ministry quickly issued a response claiming that the minister has already appointed a team to examine "the flaws in reserving hotel rooms" and to take steps to prevent the recurrence of such flaws. The ministry stressed that Barak had "nothing to do with" reserving the rooms.

But there is no excuse for the blatant fashion in which Barak and Itzik squandered money on their trips abroad - and certainly not a sorry one like lack of knowledge. Minister Ehud Barak must send a personal check to the Finance Ministry's accountants this morning that will cover the difference between the reasonable cost of a business trip to Paris and the scandalous cost with which the public purse was in fact burdened. If either Barak or Itzik fail to do so, the state must demand the money from them without delay.