The Price of Protecting Ehud Barak

Ehud Barak reportedly netted about NIS 30 million since leaving government in 2001, according to Haaretz Magazine. Moreover, as a former prime minister, he continues to live off the fat of the public kitty, a phenomenon causing some unease in Knesset circles.

In February 2007, the Knesset Finance Committee agreed to continue financing personal protection for Barak, at a cost of NIS 1.2 million for six months. That money covers an armored government car and bodyguards.

Under the rules, former prime ministers receive taxpayer-financed protection for five years from the end of their stint. Last year, when Barak's five years ended, the Prime Minister's Office decided to extend it in his case.

 But even that didn't suffice: a few months ago, as said, the Finance Committee agreed to give him six months' more, throughout the second half of 2007.

The proposal went through even though criticism about the arrangement was making the rounds in parliament: why should the taxpayer have to pay for the former PM's security when he was a successful businessman?

Yet the Knesset members evidently felt they couldn't turn down Barak's request, especially after ending funding for offices and aides for him (and Benjamin Netanyahu) from January 2007.

If Barak wins the Labor primaries tomorrow, and is subsequently named to the Defense Ministry, there will be no need to continue protecting him as a former prime minister.

But if Barak doesn't become our next defense minister, and continues to globe-trot as a businessman, say Knesset sources - the Knesset Finance Committee must set new rules regarding his security. There is no reason for the people to continue funding the bodyguards of a man paid a handsome state pension and earning millions a year, who'd been prime minister for all of 20 months.

More than six years have passed since he left the Prime Minister's Office. His legal entitlement is over. He is not penniless. Barak could pay for his safety himself.