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(photo credit: Ariel Hermoni / Defense Ministry)
A source close to Labor Chairman Ehud Barak, speaking on behalf of the party, blasted a Knesset Ethics Committee decision filed on Monday morning stating that Barak received illicit benefits during a recent El Al flight.
"The decision by the Ethics Committee is questionable and borders on hypocrisy," complained the former Barak adviser, hours after the panel ordered the Defense Minister to pay back the cash equivalent of the benefits received.
MK Uri Ariel (National Union) had filed a complaint early last month, alleging that Barak violated ethics guidelines when he and his wife, Nili Priel, accepted an upgrade from business to first class on a flight from New York to Tel Aviv.
Barak argued in response that this practice has been generally accepted for years, and was enjoyed by prime ministers and senior government officials.
"For years, former prime ministers and people with senior positions, including [Yitzhak] Shamir, [Yitzhak] Rabin, [Shimon] Peres, [Ariel] Sharon, [Binyamin] Netanyahu, Barak and [Ehud] Olmert were upgraded from time to time on El Al flights. If it has been decided to change the practice, it should not be done at the expense of one individual with the goal of political head-butting and harming his public image, but rather in a forward-looking framework," said a Labor Party statement.
"To our regret, the sport of 'attacking' the Labor chairman has become popular among disillusioned and fractious MKs, and instead of having the Ethics Committee discuss MK Jamal Zahalka, who accused Barak of killing children, they preferred to nitpick," it went on.
Barak's confidantes intimated that it was not just Ariel who was out to get the Labor chairman, but also committee chairwoman MK Shelly Yacimovich. Yacimovich was once considered a Barak supporter within the party, but since Labor joined the government she has become one of his key adversaries.
Ariel argued that the allegations were not nitpicking, but rather pointed to a pattern of behavior by the Labor chairman.
"This is not the first time, and apparently not the last, that Ehud Barak is revealed as someone who enjoys luxuries. It is sad to see that despite the accumulation of incidents, Barak continues to serve as a minister of the State of Israel," Ariel said, shortly after the Ethics Committee decision.
Less than a month before Barak's first-class flight, he said that he had "learned his lesson" following another wrist-slap for ethics violations involving hotel expenses when he attended the Paris Air Show last June.
Monday's decision marks the third ethics committee citation leveled against Barak since the start of the Knesset session. This time, unlike the decision regarding the Paris visit, the committee also leveled a financial penalty, ordering Barak to pay back the thousands-of-dollars difference between the business-class and first-class seats.