Bintel Blog

Offbeat Israel: Barak's Paris Spending Spree and a Proposal for Diplomatic Dormitories

By Nathan Jeffay

Will somebody please teach Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak how to use Travelocity or Orbitz?

Barak, leader of the Labor party that has spent decades fighting for social equality, managed to rack up a hotel bill of 96,000 euro for a visit by him and his entourage to the Paris Air Show in the summer — up from 25,000 euro last year. A euro is worth around $1.50.

This revelation isn’t from some questionable newspaper expose but rather from the State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss.

Lindenstrauss lambasted the trip, writing that there is “no place for such spending on hotels and lavish suites particularly during an economic crisis when most citizens are struggling to make ends meet.” See articles here, here and here.

The suite for Barak and his wife, Nili Priel, cost 2,500 euro a night, compared to a relatively bargain-basement 1,800 euro last year.

One of the reasons for this year’s large bill is that Barak’s team booked a couple of extra nights in the hotel and didn’t use them — six nights were reserved but several of the rooms were empty for two of these nights. Another reason is that when it came to make reservations, all of the cheaper hotels that fit their security criteria were full. The booking was made at the InterContinental Paris Le Grand. Israelis love to travel, and the country is full of budget holiday-makers who could initiate Barak in the joys of thinking ahead and finding cheap deals online.

Flippancy aside, this revelation points to a serious problem in the culture of Israel’s political leaders, which has come to be characterized by a hankering after expensive things on somebody else’s bill.

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How Does Morris Talansky Do Business?

By Daniel Treiman

Does the Long Island rabbi at the center of Israel’s investigation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have some serious skeletons in his closet? New York Magazine has obtained “a transcript of secret tapes” that, it reports, suggests that Rabbi Morris Talansky has threatened business associates in the past.


The Olmert Affair: Israelis May Be Disgusted, But Some Arabs Are Impressed

By Daniel Treiman

Israelis may be disgusted by the scandalous allegations swirling around their prime minister, but, on the bright side, the mess is garnering kudos for the Jewish state from some usually hostile quarters.

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Over the past week, the corruption case against Olmert received wide coverage in the mainstream Arab media, prompting an outcry about the need for transparency and accountability in the Arab world.

“Show me one Arab or Islamic country where a prime minister or a senior government official was ever questioned for financial corruption or bribery,” said a reader who identified himself only as Majed.

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Ari Shavit: Olmert's a ‘Captain Without a Compass’

By Daniel Treiman

Ha’aretz’s Ari Shavit renders a harsh verdict on the tenure of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Despite Olmert’s “many good qualities,” Shavit writes, the prime minister “has no core. He has no Tablets of Stone. In the most profound sense, he does not know where he came from and where he is going.” And the result, according to Shavit, has been failure on many fronts.

Shavit writes:

These were two important years during which Israel’s prime minister was supposed to strengthen the country before the major historic test of the end of the decade. During these years he was supposed to pursue peace and prepare for war. To prepare the ground for dividing the country and prepare people’s hearts for a struggle for the country. To stop Iran, test Syria and exhaust Hamas. To establish Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish and democratic nation state. To restore to Israel the qualities of a country characterized by excellence. To rehabilitate statesmanship and renew meaningfulness. To provide the state with diplomatic tools, national pride and a sense of direction.

Olmert did none of this. He promised convergence, and changed his mind. He promised an end to the conflict, and disappointed us. He failed in the Second Lebanon War and failed to understand its significance. He did something, but not enough, on the crucial issue of Iran. He is losing precious time before entering negotiations with Syria, he did not formulate an overall and consistent strategy vis-a-vis Hamas and did not prepare the country for a future evacuation of the settlements. He did not spur the nation to stand behind the Israel Defense Forces and strengthen them.

So as far as foreign affairs and security are concerned, the prime minister has stagnated over the past two years. But as far as domestic affairs and society are concerned, Olmert caused tremendous damage. He did not carry out the necessary revolution in the school system. He brought about a destructive revolution in the justice system, surrendered unconditionally to Shas, encouraged centralization in the economy and accepted the widening gaps in society. Under Olmert, Israel has become a reckless country that abandons the weak and helpless. Mutual responsibility has been eroded, social justice has been trampled. Corruption has become widespread.

See the full article.


Ehud Olmert: ‘First of All I'm Jewish, Then I'm Israeli’

By Daniel Treiman

Speaking to this week’s grandiosely named “Conference on the Future of the Jewish People,” convened by the equally grandiosely (and tongue-twistingly) named Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared that he identifies as a Jew first, and an Israeli second.

Y-Net reports:

“If I was asked today, which I am sometimes, how do I most accurately define myself, as a person? What is that defines me most accurately? I probably will say, certainly will say, first of all I’m Jewish. Had I been asked this question when I was much younger, say at the age of 14, 15, I would have said right away, I am an Israeli. Something in me changed,” Olmert said.

“It’s not something that just happened. It happened through a very long and sometimes painful process of soul searching of who I am and where I come from,” Olmert said.

What’s noteworthy about Olmert’s remarks is that these two terms — “Israeli” and “Jewish” — have come, in certain respects, to represent competing identities. (After being defeated in the 1996 Israeli elections by Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres famously explained that the election’s losers were “the Israelis,” while the winners were those “who do not have an Israeli mentality,” namely, he explained, “the Jews.”)

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So What if the Guy Wanted to Kill the PM, He Was a Good Worker

By Ami Eden

The Shin Bet has revealed a plot to assassinate Ehud Olmert. The suspect, Mazab Bashir, a 25-year-old Palestinian from the Gaza Strip, works for Doctors Without Borders.

The organization may have done nothing wrong. But officials at the group may want to iron out their talking points.

According to The Jerusalem Post, Duncan Mclean, head of Doctors Without Borders operations in the region, told Israel Radio: “I don’t think embarrassed would be the right word. We are very sad for Bashir who has been working for us for almost six years. But we would like to make it very clear that we make a distinction between his professional work and what he does on his personal time in the sense that all our staff is hired for professional reasons and I don’t think our organization can be held liable for every aspect of their life.”

Poor fella’. Besides, what a guy does on his own time is his own business.



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