ben gurion 311.
(photo credit: R.M. Kneller)
As someone who’s traveled extensively at other people’s expense, including that
of the Israeli taxpayer, and stayed at some particularly luxurious hotels, I
suppose I have more in common with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu than I
would care to admit. And yes, I’ve even used a hotel’s drycleaning service (one
shirt), for which the German government picked up the tab.
But were the
details of these trips ever to face the same scrutiny as those of the prime
minister, I like to think I would not share the embarrassment felt by Netanyahu,
and not just because you wouldn’t find any bills for pedicures.
isn’t because I don’t enjoy the good things in life – I had a memorable single
malt whiskey and Cuban cigar in a five-star hotel the Foreign Ministry booked
for me in Sydney during a lecture tour of Australia and New Zealand – but
because the rules governing these trips were very simple.
The hosts, be
it the Israeli government, a foreign government or whoever, made it clear what
they were paying for; any extra expenses (particularly single malts and cigars)
were on me; the trip was approved beforehand by my employers; and, much to their
regret, no members of my family came along.
When somebody else is paying
the bill, it’s very easy to get used to a luxury lifestyle and begin to regard
it as a natural right, and not an occasional perk. We saw this in Netanyahu’s
defense of his expensive travel arrangements, when he argued: “There is a
standard for trips. The standard for previous prime ministers and previous
presidents is acceptable, and is no different from Clinton or Blair. Others did
not fly charter or stay at youth hostels.”
I wonder what Netanyahu made
of the news that British Prime Minister David Cameron took his wife on a two-day
vacation to Spain last week at what was described as a “mid-market hotel” to
celebrate her 40th birthday, flying with easyJet, where you pay extra per
suitcase and food costs. There are daily easyJet flights from Tel Aviv to
London, but somehow I just can’t see Bibi whisking Sara away for a romantic
break in the UK capital via this no-frills firm.
BUT THE issue is not so
much Netanyahu’s extravagant travel demands and insistence that his wife
accompany him everywhere he goes – this is something to which we’ve grown
accustomed and reluctantly have to accept as part of the Netanyahu
The question is whether the prime minister accepted improper
funding for his foreign trips; here, his defense that “everybody was doing it”
will not be enough to spare him from the state comptroller’s censure and, if
reports of double-dipping for the same flight are accurate, a criminal
investigation à la Olmert.
Netanyahu, though, is not the only villain in
this piece. The Israel Bonds organization, which seems to act as an exclusive
travel agent for the prime minister and his family, as well as a series of other
high-ranking Israeli politicians, is also in need of some careful
In fact, as Kadima MK and former finance minister Meir Sheetrit
has advocated, the organization should simply be disbanded. This is not because
it wastes thousands of dollars annually flying our political leaders around the
world to address Jewish audiences in attractive locations, providing them with
top hotels, limousines and gourmet meals at fancy restaurants, but because today
there is simply no need for the Bonds to exist.
Established in 1951 by
David Ben-Gurion, the Israel Bonds raised much-needed capital for the young
Jewish state at a time when commercial banks were unwilling to provide loans,
except at exorbitant rates of interest. But what was true more than half a
century ago is no longer the case.
The fact is, we’re no longer short of
Currently the Bank of Israel is holding $70 billion in
foreign currency reserves, which makes the $1.2b. a year the Israel Bonds brings
in – at a much higher cost than simply raising capital in the international
markets – a negligible achievement.
And as Sheetrit points out, the
argument that Israel Bonds helps strengthen the relationship between Diaspora
Jews and Israel is also spurious. Due to the attractive interest rates offered
by the Bonds, the majority of its purchasers are American pension funds and
banks, not world Jewry.
It seems the Israel Bonds leadership, headed by
former Likud minister Yehoshua Matza (the latest in a long line of political
appointments) knows very well why it invests so heavily in making sure prominent
Knesset members and ministers have such a good time when traveling on a Bonds
Just as turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, Israeli politicians
are in no rush to close down an institution that provides them with luxury
travel and the chance of a cushy job once their political career is over, even
though the organization can no longer justify its existence on economic
grounds.The writer is a former editor-in-chief of
The Jerusalem Post.