Foreign Minister Eli Cohen ordered diplomatic passports to be issued to prominent members of his Likud party, acting against the advice of counsel from professional staff in his office, according to a new report.
A panel of ministry professionals adjudicating Cohen’s requests for the diplomatic passports ruled against issuing them, but Foreign Ministry Director-General Ronen Levy overruled the committee, informing members that he was doing so on specific instructions from Cohen, the Haaretz daily reported.
Diplomatic passports are meant to be used by very high-ranking government officials to allow them to travel abroad with more ease.
An anonymous source familiar with the activities told Haaretz that Cohen’s behavior “has a particularly bad scent.”
“There is a blatant use of the state’s resources by the foreign minister in order to give bribes to those who will influence his political future. Cohen acted in a blatant conflict of interest, and the attorney general needs to get into the thick of it,” the source added.
Among the Likud members who allegedly received a diplomatic passport was Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz — a prominent settler leader. Levy reportedly reasoned that Gantz needed the passport as head of the foreign affairs desk for the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization of settler mayors. Gantz participated in a meeting with Cohen and New York Mayor Eric Adams earlier in the year.
Other Likud members who were said to receive diplomatic passports were Dimona Mayor Benny Biton, whom Levy reportedly said needed the passport as deputy head of the Federation of Local Authorities; Sdot Negev Regional Council chairman Tamir Idan, who recently resigned from Likud in protest of the government’s lack of assistance to residents in the south during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war; and Merhavim Regional Council chairman Shay Hajaj, who along with Idan created an initiative to teach teens about diplomacy.
According to Haaretz, Hajaj previously received a diplomatic passport during the time of former foreign minister Israel Katz and director-general Yuval Rotem, but it had not been renewed until Cohen entered the role.
A source who knew Cohen while he served in previous roles told the daily that the minister goes to extraordinary lengths to gain favor with influential party members.
“For many years, I haven’t seen a minister who shows love to [Likud] functionaries like that,” the source said.
Cohen also requested a passport for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair, but he did not meet the conditions, the report said, adding that the offspring of prime ministers are only entitled to such a passport until the age of 18.
Responding to the report, Cohen’s office told Haaretz, “The foreign minister doesn’t order the issuance of passports. Requests that are submitted are considered and approved in accordance with the ministry’s regulations.”