Ehud Barak: Probing My Payment From Wexner Fund Serves Corrupt People Like Netanyahu

The former prime minister criticizes an Haaretz editorial published last week, which called on Barak to reveal why he received a $2.3 million payment from a philanthropic foundation in the U.S., officially for his research work

FILE PHOTO: Ehud Barak speaks at a conference in Ramat Efal, Israel, June 2017
Ofer Vaknin

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak on Monday rebuffed questions about a Civil Service Commission examination of his receipt of 2.3 million dollars from the Wexner Fund, an American philanthropic foundation.

In an editorial last week, Haaretz argued that because Barak is a private citizen "Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz must leave the matter alone and not act as the political right’s investigations department," but at the same time "that does not exempt Barak from explaining to the public what he had been paid for." 

"Did he conduct a study, and if so, for what purpose? This isn’t about security secrets, not even business ones, but about working for philanthropic foundations that advance public causes. Anyone who is as active in political life as Barak, even if it’s outside the Knesset or a party, cannot be called a 'private citizen,' whose actions are known only to his employers and the tax authorities," the editorial read.

"He must explain to the public what he gave in return that justified this payment,” it concluded.

Responding to the editorial, Barak said on Israeli army radio that “The Wexner Fund isn’t the one who has paid me the most, nor has it paid me the most for work hours."

Barak said he was going to lecture at a U.S. university next week for a talk about “technology, trade and security. They are paying me $80,000 for 50 minutes on stage. That’s out in the open, but other organizations have the elementary right to privacy.”

>> Editorial: Barak owes Israelis an explanation for $2.3 million payment

Asked about the receipt of funds from Wexner, Barak said “ask the Wexner Fund. I’m a private citizen despite all the quote marks that appear in the Haaretz newspaper, and as long as I have not been elected to serve in the Knesset, I am dealing with research, enterprise and lectures. The relevant question is whether my actions are legal and whether I report it and pay taxes. And the answer to that is yes.”

Barak said demands that he answer queries regarding the payment were illegitimate. “This demand arises from Netanyahu’s circle as part of a systematic effort to claim that everyone is corrupt. Therefore they have an interest in finding someone who’s reached the top is just like them.”

He added that “you and the Haaretz newspaper without noticing are cooperating with this trick which serves the interests of corrupt people like Netanyahu.”

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The Civil Service Commission has recently launched an investigation into the money Barak received from the American philanthropic group. Globes said senior commission officials have met recently with the fund’s chairman in Israel, Reservist General Ido Nechushtan and the director-general in Israel, Ra’anan Avital. The report said that they asked for explanations for $2.3 million dollars Barak received from the fund in 2004 through 2006 but received no significant information in response.

The commission said in response to a question from Haaretz that it “indeed is conducting an examination into the matter of the connection with the Wexner Fund following appeals from MKs and other sources and also following requests for information asked of the commission according to the freedom of information law."

The commission said it is handling the matter in an appropriate fashion as it handles every issue about which it receives queries in the framework of the freedom of information law, and refused to provide any further information about the probe.