Editorial

Barak Owes Israelis an Explanation for $2.3 Million Payment

Barak received $2.3 million from a philanthropic foundation in the U.S. headed by retailing magnate Leslie Wexner. The foundation reported it had paid Barak for 'research,' but did not spend similar sums on other studies and researchers

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak at the launch of the left-wing 'Strengthening' movement in Tel Aviv.
Meged Gozani

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak acts like a private opposition to his erstwhile rival and political partner Benjamin Netanyahu. Barak energetically posts tweets slamming the prime minister, makes speeches and gives interviews, and in his free time meets politicians who aim to set up a partisan force that will lead to the replacement of the government.

Barak is not a candidate for any official position and it’s not clear if he will run in the coming elections, but his presence in public life is prominent and influential.

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The payments to Barak were first published by Tomer Avital and Uri Blau several years ago, and were recently floated again by journalists affiliated with the right.

About a month ago, Erel Segal (Radio 103) and Akiva Bigman (Israel Hayom) wrote that in 2004-2006, when he held no public position, Barak received $2.3 million from a philanthropic foundation in the United States headed by retailing magnate and philanthropist Leslie Wexner. The foundation reported it had paid Barak for “research,” but it was an unusual expense: The foundation did not spend similar sums on other studies and researchers.

The Wexner Foundation focuses on developing Jewish professional and volunteer leaders in North America and public leaders in Israel. The foundation did not explain why it had employed Barak or the purpose of his research.

Barak said in response that he was a private citizen, had acted lawfully and reported his income to the tax authorities. He accused the journalists of political persecution in Netanyahu’s service. Right-wing MKs persuaded the Civil Service Commission, which is headed by a Habayit Hayehudi functionary, to demand explanations from the Wexner Foundation. The foundation grants 10 study scholarships for Harvard fellowships every year for Israeli public sector employees and officers.

The commission has no authority to “look into” the payments to Barak, who wasn’t a state employee. Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz must leave the matter alone and not act as the political right’s investigations department. But 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. He must explain to the public what he gave in return that justified this payment.