There was no light at the end of the tunnel on Monday for Labor chairman Ehud Barak. With a new state comptroller's probe and a fresh administrative slap in the face against him, the party's MKs were visibly uncomfortable with the low turnout at the weekly faction meeting.
Barak was dealt his largest blow in the Knesset State Control Committee, when the lawmakers voted to task State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss with conducting a probe into whether government funds were being channeled back to Barak's own coffers through companies owned by him.
"I agree with the committee's call and accept it with goodwill," Lindenstrauss said after the hearing. "We have already begun to gather all of the materials on the subject, and we will do our best, as is expected. Within a short time we will submit the results of the probe."
A report in Haaretz two weeks ago cited allegations that after being appointed as defense minister, Barak transferred ownership of his company - Ehud Barak Inc. - to his three daughters, Michal, Yael and Anat. In the ensuing period, the company has earned approximately NIS 6.5 million.
Barak chose not to attend Monday morning's hearing, and even his business partner - and son-in-law - Doron Cohen - elected to make do with a letter sent to the committee.
But the Labor chairman - for whom the current probe is simply the latest of a long list of troubles that include a 50 percent nose-dive in party's popularity - did arrive at the Knesset later on Monday, to attend the faction meeting.
In the minutes before the meeting, it was clear that all was far from well with the once-powerful faction. A lone cabinet member - Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog - stood in a side office, while party aides searched in vain for additional members of the 13-seat-strong faction. Meeting organizers seemed resigned to the current crisis, only setting enough places for six at the faction committee's table - and adding more after being mocked by gathered press.
But six places turned out to be just enough. The only non-cabinet member to attend was Daniel Ben-Simon, who resigned as faction chairman last week in protest of Barak's policies. Beyond Ben-Simon, Barak and Herzog, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman and Deputy Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Orit Noked were the only legislators present.
Barak, sitting - as always - under an enormous portrait of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin - chose not to publicly respond to the slow dissolution of the party, instead focusing on reiterating his opposition to an Israeli investigation into Operation Cast Lead and discussing the diplomatic arena.
The defense minister's troubles started early in the morning, when Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin fired off a scathing criticism of Barak and Ben-Eliezer. Rivlin, in a letter to the two, accused them of "seriously harming the public's faith in the Knesset as an institution and strengthening those who seek to weaken the Knesset and lessen its independence."
Rivlin's complaints centered around Barak and Ben-Eliezer's criticism of last week's Knesset Ethics Committee ruling, in which the two were fined for failing to reach the minimum levels of Knesset attendance required of every representative (50%). After the ruling was issued, sources close to both ministers rushed to hint that the committee's decision was motivated by the political leanings of its chairwoman, MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor). It was this strategy, of calling into question the legitimacy of an Ethics Committee ruling, that Rivlin said crossed a red line and threatened the entire system of self-supervision guaranteed by the panel.