By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
It was hard to avoid seeing the virtual smiles on the faces of opposition members, both in opposing parties as well as in Defense Minister Ehud Barak's own fractured faction, following the release Wednesday of a special State Comptroller's Report blasting the Labor chairman's expenditures during his trip to the Paris Air Show.
Although the four Labor rebels - MKs Ophir Paz-Pines, Yuli Tamir, Amir Peretz and Eitan Cabel said that it was "with sorrow" that they read the report, they clearly were anything but sad to make political hay by condemning their nominal chairman.
"The report points to a lack of public sensitivity, complete disrespect regarding state funds and a lack of proportion that are expressed through greed in luxury hotels and an exaggerated entourage, and all that during a time of a social crisis and budget cuts," wrote the four, in a message released shortly after the report came out.
"We are sorry that Barak is evading responsibility and instead is placing it on his employees. The group of four calls upon Barak to make sure that all of the money that was spent for nothing will be returned to the national budget. The government's irresponsible expenditures are raising doubts regarding the legitimacy of the budgetary demands being made by the Defense Ministry," the statement continued.
"It is now clear that under cover of secrecy and security, unrestrained wastefulness is out of control. Barak is once again proving that he is not deserving to uphold the name of the Labor Party and that his management is degrading the party's values."
The four rebels got a boost from MK Shelly Yacimovich, who has tried for months to downplay rumors of an ideological pact with the fractious four. On Wednesday, Yacimovich did not mince words in her condemnation of Barak.
"The controller's findings about Barak's trip and his enormous entourage engender disgust. It does not stand to reason that the defense minister and his wife should sleep in a luxurious suite at the expense of Israel's citizens who are struggling under the weight of economic cutbacks," said Yacimovich.
"In light of this, Barak's demands for additions to the Defense Ministry's budget and to join the Ministerial Committee for Ethics are particularly disturbing."
Outside of the Labor Party, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni jumped at the chance to slam Barak, during an evening speech to mark the opening of the academic year at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. But with the threat of yet another corruption case emerging in her own party, she was careful not to name names.
"The test should not simply be whether an act is criminal. Every person must have an internal compass that directs them. It's good that there are criminal trials and severe punishments for those who do not understand that fact," Livni told students and faculty.
"In the past we have undergone an appropriate process of cleaning up, but not everything can be placed upon the shoulders of law enforcement and the courts. The politicians must be aware that the public will not accept criminal acts and pleasure-seeking and that these behaviors will exact a political price at the ballot box."
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