PM: Report shows ‘Bibi Tours’ mountain on foreign trips is just a molehill

Comptroller finds Netanyahu ‘behaved exactly like other ministers,’ PM’s office claims; opposition decries ‘moral decay’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara board their flight back to Israel after their visit to Washington, on November 11, 2015. (Photo by Haim Zach / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara board their flight back to Israel after their visit to Washington, on November 11, 2015. (Photo by Haim Zach / GPO)

Years of “bombastic headlines” have revealed a “mountain to be a molehill” and all efforts to comb through the affairs of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara with a fine-tooth comb have come to naught, the Prime Minister’s Office said Tuesday in response to the annual State Comptroller’s report.

In his report, Comptroller Yosef Shapira found that during his stint as finance minister over a decade ago, Netanyahu had private donors and organizations fund most of his trips as well as cover travel expenses for his wife and children, and failed to clear the information with the Knesset.

Shapira chided Netanyahu for failing to approach legal experts to weigh in on whether the trips, between 2003 and 2005, represented a conflict of interest or illicit gifts.

Some allegations were omitted from the report pending the attorney general’s examination of the case, Shapira said.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira, October 29, 2014 (Flash90)
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira, October 29, 2014 (Flash90)

But, according to a statement published on the prime minister’s Facebook page shortly after the report was released, “there was no conflict of interest, no double billing and nothing illegal.

“The attorney general had already looked into the materials given to him by the state comptroller in 2013, and decided that there was no reason to open an investigation,” the Facebook post said. According to the statement, Netanyahu was convinced that the same conclusion would be reached regarding additional materials about the case submitted to the state comptroller in 2015.

“The state comptroller determined that Netanyahu behaved exactly as other ministers did,” the statement said, and that while the actions under investigation took place in and before 2005, rules about ministerial travel were not introduced until 2008.

“The feeling is that one law is applied to Netanyahu and another to everyone else,” the statement said.

“Mrs. Netanyahu joined her husband’s trips as is routine for the wives of former prime ministers and sometimes also for the wives of ministers.” Netanyahu first served as prime minister between 1996 and 1999.

The foreign organizations that invited Netanyahu were public groups and educational institutions.

“These trips were important for the State of Israel. Mr. Netanyahu raised tens of millions of shekels for the state, did dozens of interviews for the international media and appeared before public bodies to advance Israeli public relations.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that such a “serious and harsh” report demanded a public debate. He also expressed faith that the auditing, investigation and enforcement agencies would do their work properly, the Walla news site reported.

Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit attends a Finance Committee meeting at the Knesset on January 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Other opposition MKs were quick to condemn the prime minister for the findings.

“Once there were prime ministers who sacrificed themselves for the state. Netanyahu is a prime minister who sacrifices the state for himself,” Zionist Union’s Erel Margalit said, according to Army Radio. “This the case with his personal affairs, the breakdown of Israel’s foreign service, which is run without a minister because of Netanyahu’s political interests, and all other areas. Ten years of Netanyahu have turned Israel into a state of spreading moral decay.”

Meretz leader Zehava Galon said: “It’s our right to demand from our prime minister a little more than not being accused of criminal wrongdoing,” the NRG website reported. “We are obliged to demand that he behaves according to the basic rules of morality, does not abuse the money that we have worked for and deposited in his hands, and serves as a model of clean and ethical citizenship.”

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