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Ministers’ trips abroad have cost nearly NIS 16 million in seven months — report

Since government was sworn in in June, cabinet members took at least 46 visits; Bennett, Lapid and Gantz lead with five or more apiece; several ministers refuse to report costs

(From left to right) Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on August 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
(From left to right) Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on August 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the seven months since the government’s establishment, ministers have conducted at least 46 flights and trips abroad, at a cost of NIS 10-16 million ($3-5 million), according to a report Monday.

The report was published following a query to Knesset by the opposition’s Likud MK Yariv Levin on the matter.

According to Walla news, the data was based on reports by the ministers themselves and not by the government’s accountant general.

Some responded to the query without detailing the travel costs, and some forwarded incomplete reports, omitting the security costs or not including trips that were made after the query’s filing date.

The calculation of the total costs is only an estimate and is also based on estimates from conversations with government officials. At the same time, the summary of answers provides rare data regarding government spending on flights and travel in the first half-year of its existence.

Topping the list of frequent fliers were Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett — who has made six official trips abroad since coming into office in June.

US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Bennett flew twice to the United States — to meet with US President Joe Biden at the White House and speak at the UN General Assembly in New York. In August he visited Sharm el-Sheikh to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. In October he went to Sochi, Russia, for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, later that month flying to Glasgow, Scotland, to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference. In December, he flew to the UAE, the first public visit by an Israeli premier to the Gulf state.

The Prime Minister’s Office wrote in response to Levin’s query that it would only list visits “that can be detailed in this framework,” implying Bennett has made additional secret trips during this period.

According to the report, the total cost of the six visits came to NIS 5,740,017 ($1,806,235). This does not include lodging, security and other expenses, which add another 20%-30% to the total costs.

For comparison, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu made 14 official trips in 2017 and 16 in 2018. A Freedom of Information request in 2018 showed that the trips cost around NIS 85 million ($26,747,647).

According to Walla, the reports given by Gantz and Lapid were less detailed.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, accompanied by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyanin (right), speaks at a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

The foreign minister’s office said the top diplomat took eight “important policy trips,” without specifying to which countries, and said they cost NIS 3 million ($944,102) — about half of the Foreign Ministry’s annual budget for the minister’s travel.

In line with his role, Lapid has since taking office visited the United States, Russia, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels, Italy, Paris and London. Since the submission of the query, Lapid has had another one-day trip to Egypt in December, where he met with Sissi.

Gantz provided a list of trips that took place during the previous and current government, without addressing the question of costs at all.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, center-right, alongside Israeli defense officials meets with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, left, and a number of American defense officials at Israel’s military headquarters in Tel Aviv on April 11, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni)

He reported five trips he has made as defense minister in the current government: to France, Singapore, Morocco, the United States and Jordan.

Two other ministers who refused to detail their trips’ costs were Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel and Eli Avidar, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Seven ministers have not traveled anywhere since the government was formed: Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Bitton, Interior Security Minister Omer Barlev, Minister in the Finance Ministry Hamad Amar, and Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen.

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