Is­rael’s shock­ing lust for lux­ury

The coun­try is be­ing ru­ined by greed and self-delu­sion

The Jewish Chronicle - - News -

‘Is­raeli politi­cians can’t help but han­ker af­ter the finer things’

IS­RAEL’S DE­FENCE Min­is­ter Ehud Barak and his en­tourage racked up an enor­mous €96,000 ho­tel bill when they vis­ited Paris this sum­mer (and bear in mind a Euro is worth al­most a pound th­ese days). They went to France on a state-funded mis­sion for Is­rael’s se­cu­rity — they were at­tend­ing the Paris Air Show. But judg­ing by a re­port from the state comp­trol­ler, who au­dits pub­lic life in Is­rael, the trip was or­gan­ised more like a stag week­end for a mil­lion­aire play­boy. Rooms were booked at the sump­tious In­terCon­ti­nen­tal Paris Le Grand. They were re­served for six nights even though most were used only for four. Barak, who leads the Labour Party, took a suite that cost €2,500 a night — al­most twice the monthly wage of the av­er­age Is­raeli.

Okay, of­fi­cial vis­its are al­ways go­ing to be dear and no­body ex­pects the De­fence Min­is­ter to put his as­sess­ment of the Ira­nian threat on hold while he surfs last­minute.com. But this is a bit much, even by his own stan­dards.

Last year when Barak, a sea­soned plea­sure-seeker, first went to the Air Show, his suite was al­most twice the price of his pre­de­ces­sor’s —-€1,800 com­pared to €1,000. It was bad enough that last year the bill for Barak-plus-en­tourage came to €25,000, but the fact that it al­most quadru­pled this year is stag­ger­ing.

Sadly, this is the tip of the ice­berg; an­other ex­am­ple of a dis­ease that af­flicts top-level politi­cians of vir­tu­ally ev­ery po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sion. They can’t seem to help han­ker­ing af­ter the finer things at some­body else’s ex­pense.

It’s be­come part and par­cel of Is­raeli pol­i­tics, and most of the time the pub­lic never finds out. But when it comes out into the open, the de­tails are shock­ing. Just a few days be­fore Barak’s spending be­came pub­lic, it came to light that in 2006 Dalia Itzik, then Speaker of the Knes­set, re­fused to stay at the five-star Park Hy­att Paris be­cause, she said, her room was too small. She moved to Ho­tel Le Bris­tol, where a €1,300-a-night suite ap­par­ently did not sat­isfy. Itzik re­port­edly in­sisted on a €1,995 suite and, count­ing the can­cel­la­tion fee at the Park Hy­att, cost the tax­payer around €13,000 for a four-night stay.

And think about the po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity of the last year — the fall of Kadima which seemed to be mak­ing slow progress to­wards peace; months of a lame-duck Prime Min­is­ter, and the up­heaval of elec­tions. If the State Pros­e­cu­tor is cor­rect, this all came about be­cause Ehud Olmert, who awaits crim­i­nal trial, com­pro­mised him­self for some cash and a few pens and watches — lux­u­ries he is pas­sion­ate about.

Of course, Is­rael isn’t alone in hav­ing politi­cians who can­not be trusted with money. Bri­tain is in the throes of the MP ex­penses scan­dal. But whereas in most places in the world the prob­lem stems mainly from greed, in Is­rael it also stems from delu­sions of grandeur.

Is­raeli politi­cians are un­der the mis­ap­pre­hen­sion that they are su­per­stars on the world stage, and that they should have a life­style to match. They hob-nob with the big boys, leaders of the world’s largest and rich­est states, and want ev­ery­thing they have plus more. They have for­got­ten that they rep­re­sent a small, em­bat­tled na­tion with mod­est re­sources. They have lost touch with the Is­rael they are meant to serve — the Is­rael where, at some point in 2007, one in five adult cit­i­zens skimped on food for fi­nan­cial rea­sons.

The ef­fect on the pub­lic is dam­ag­ing. By act­ing so reck­lessly and by pre­sent­ing a dis­torted sense of what Is­rael is, they un­der­mine the sense of shared re­spon­si­bil­ity that used to reign supreme — shared re­spon­si­bil­ity for the coun­try’s re­sources and its wel­fare.

But there is more. Is­rael used to have leaders, not just politi­cians. So fo­cused on serv­ing his coun­try over him­self was for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Me­nachem Be­gin that when he re­tired his bud­get ran only to a small rental flat.

Trag­i­cally, to­day’s politi­cians haven’t only de­cided to live be­yond their per­sonal means, but also to run a coun­try in such a way that cit­i­zens are ex­pected to do so too. Some 47 per cent of Is­raelis have house­hold in­comes that do not cover their monthly out­go­ings. And un­like when Barak went to Paris, no­body is go­ing to pick up their bill.

NATHAN JEF­FAY

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