Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov (Yisrael Beytenu) on Tuesday made light of a report that he had an alcohol problem that interfered with his work, joking that there was “one thing I can tell you, I arrived to work on time this morning and I took a breathalyzer test.”
Several of the minister’s former bodyguards were quoted by Channel 2 news on Monday describing Misezhnikov’s after-hours lifestyle. According to the report, the minister enjoys drinking to excess on a regular basis, visiting strip clubs and dodging security personnel.
Minister of Environmental Protection Gilad Erdan (Likud) said that if the allegations were true they would be “worrying” and “disturbing,” but added that he had not noticed that Misezhnikov’s job performance was impaired.
Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich defended the security guards on Tuesday, saying they were in an “impossible situation” if they had to protect the tourism minister under the alleged conditions.
Misezhnikov said the accusations emanated from a cadre of disgruntled ex-employees.
He called the claims “slander from employees who were involved in incidents of misconduct and even of violence, for which they were fired. Now, they are trying to get their revenge by fabricating lies.”
The minister added that one of the guards brought the allegations to the Civil Service Commissioner, who investigated the complaint and found that it had no merit.
Several of the bodyguards interviewed described occasions in which the minister would be in his car with women, sweaty and drunk, or in nightclubs with strippers and naked dancers.
Often, according to some of the accounts — which all came from unnamed sources — Misezhnikov, who is married and the father of three, would return home at 4 a.m. from his revelry.
“Dozens of times he came out [of night clubs] and he was staggering drunk, smelling of alcohol,” one former bodyguard said. “More than once he would lose his balance. Some of his bodyguards would help support him. Others refused.”
In October 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the pending deal with Hamas for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
All but two ministers attended the meeting, which lasted until 2 a.m. One minister was out of the country, and the second, Misezhnikov, did not answer the summons because he was at a “meeting with friends in which bottles of vodka were on the table,” according to one bodyguard.
There have also been several occasions that the minister arrived late to meetings, particularly when they were on Sunday mornings, because of his late-night partying, one bodyguard claimed. He added that based on the telephone conversations he heard when accompanying Misezhnikov in the car, he knew this behavior greatly angered party chairman Avigdor Liberman.
Security procedures for government ministers require that they have a bodyguard with them at all times. However, the report claimed Misezhnikov would order his guards to remain outside, so as not to alert people at the club that a government minister was there. The bodyguards were particularly concerned because “these clubs were filled with people, sometimes including underworld criminals, and it was impossible to get physically close to him” for protection.
There were other violations of security procedures, according to the sources. Occasionally Misezhnikov would show up at his car, insist on driving himself and order the guards to wait for him.
A source in the Tourism Ministry said that “security for the minister is carried out according to the guidelines required for all government ministers and in accordance with the procedures of the governing body, without… exceptions.”
Many of the guards complained that the minister’s lifestyle prevented them from properly doing their job. One described himself as a “zombie bodyguard,” saying that they would come home at 4 a.m. and already be out again three hours later. “You cannot stand up,” he said.
Over a very short time period, according to the report, at least nine bodyguards either quit or were removed from their position. They claimed that the minister was not willing to hear their concerns, and that their team leader told them “this is the way it is.”
One of the sources said that they got used to the situation, but they knew that in the event of an investigation, they would be held accountable for neglecting their responsibilities. “The guards become criminals because they violate all of the rules that they were taught,” he said.
Sources in the Tourism Ministry acknowledged that during Misezhnikov’s stint as minister, he had to meet with senior members of the Shin Bet security services to discuss the difficulties in protecting him that his lifestyle caused.
Knesset Ethics Committee chairman Yitzhak Vaknin said such actions are an embarrassment to the Knesset and that MKs should behave as role models. He said the maximum sanction the committee can issue MKs is a severe reprimand and a prohibition from attending Knesset meetings.