Barak's Rich. So What?

Barak Ltd. That was the headline of the Haaretz Magazine story on the fortune that the former prime minister, Ehud Barak, had accrued since leaving the premier's office six years ago.

In that time he's made at least NIS 30 million, mostly through international mediation and consultation deals, Haaretz wrote. "On his fast track to the uppermost 0.001%, Barak promoted the establishment of an energy plant in Jordan together with Ofer Glazer, and initiated a meeting between (Glazer) and King Abdullah."

Glazer was only one of the beneficiaries of Barak's services as an international door-opener, the article says. Barak exploited his status as former prime minister and chief of staff to promote the business of dozens of companies, Israeli and otherwise, abroad.

Meetings with ministers in Turkey to advance a parking lots deal in Istanbul; with American officials to advance homeland-security technology deals for American airports; helping international investment funds open doors in South America and meetings with the accountant-general of New York; and that's just a few of the many things in which the Israeli former PM was involved.

He aspires to conquer the social-democratic party but has himself become a nouveau-riche, rubbing shoulders at cocktail parties with the cream of the business crop, the article describes.

Stirred, not shaken

The result was not late in coming. On Sunday, reports from the Knesset said that if he's that loaded, maybe he should cover his personal security costs himself. Right now his safety (by virtue of being an ex-prime minister) is costing the taxpayer NIS 1.2 million a year.

Ex-prime ministers only get state-covered bodyguards for five years but the Knesset Finance Committee just extended his privilege for a sixth year, and possibly a seventh. in February. Why? Whatever the reasons, the report on Barak's NIS 30 million made in just six years shook parliament out of its mental coma.

One would think that the only criterion that would matter to the Knesset is the law, when it addresses requests for state funding. Barak's prosperity shouldn't matter one way or the other. But the reality is that wealth, not the law, rules: if Barak had remained a middling businessman, probably nobody would have attacked the illegal state funding for his bodyguards and armored car.

The Knesset and media evidently feel there's something wrong with Barak's riches. His affluence, it seems, disqualifies him from leading the "social-democratic" party. Evidently as a rich man he'd be impervious to the plight of the poor. That is a uniquely Israeli reverse snobbery: in other social-democratic societies, politicians are judged by their deeds, not their pockets.

One might argue whether representing a convicted criminal is appropriate for a person aspiring to the premiership. But all Barak did for Ofer Glazer was to help promote his business abroad, not in Israel, and he didn't run Glazer for public office.

That however is the only legitimate question about Barak's business, and it derives from the main argument against him: to argue about it, one has to know the details, and the secrecy shrouding his business precludes such knowledge.

Barak is not required by law to report to the public about his business. The law requires him to report to the State Comptroller and to him alone. But anybody aspiring to be prime minister cannot hide behind the letter of the law. Israel is especially touchy about close relations between the rich and the powerful, which have birthed scandals like prime minister Ariel Sharon's  employment by developer Dudi Appel in the Greek island affair.

The little that Barak does owe to the public is proper disclosure about his relationships with business, so his political activities can continue without tarnish. That is the only claim, not that because he's rich, he shouldn't rule.


Ehud Barak Ltd.

The road to Kadima II