I’ve now watched three of Raviv Drucker’s video reports on the budding Bibitours scandal (this is the entire list of Drucker stories on the affair–Hebrew only) and plan to summarize some of it here. Perhaps the motto of this scandal should be this statement Bibi made on one of his overseas trips: “I never work at the expense [“on the account of” in Hebrew] of the State, I work on behalf of [on account of] the State.” Raviv Drucker’s expose proves otherwise.
In a single two year period (1999-2001), Bibi earned $2-million from speakers fees. This enabled him to move on up to a luxurious Herzliya villa and generally live in the style to which he became accustomed.
Between 1999-2008 Bibi Netanyah and his family took scores of overseas trips which were paid for, at least in part, by private individuals or Jewish advocacy groups. There are explicit ethics rules for ministers and Knesset members to follow in financing these trips. He took scores of such trips and among them Drucker found at least 30 violations of the guidelines.
A member must receive permission to take such trips and report who will be funding them. The trips must be solely for State-related business. He must also report who, if anyone, is joining him and who is funding their trip. In some cases, Bibi got proper permission, in some he didn’t. In some cases, he got permission for himself but not for his wife and family. In such cases, the member is supposed to pay out of his own pocket for unapproved family members. On no account, may private individuals or organizations pay for the expenses of someone who hasn’t been approved. This happened multiple times. Further, the expenses of someone who hasn’t been approved are subject to tax as Bibi received a personal benefit from the individual or group. I strongly doubt he paid any such tax.
In a number of cases, Friends of the IDF was listed as the organization paying for a trip when in fact it only paid for part of the trip (the remainder paid for by private donors): another ethics violation. In one case the same group was listed as his sponsor but he did no events on its behalf. In some instances, Bibi received approval for a trip from the Knesset, but included a family vacation funded by the private individual or group. Another violation. On some trips, Bibi did some State business while also cultivating and soliciting political donors: another violation. Though it would be illegal here, imagine Barack Obama jetting to Paris in Air Force One to solicit campaign donations from a French CEO for his next political campaign.
Sara Netanyahu was noted for conducting her “official State business” on some of these junkets in Brioni boutiques. After the Knesset refused to approve his wife joining him on a trip to London, billionaire Marc Belzberg (a crony of Michael Milken from the days Drexel Burnham who has been in hot water with federal regulators in the past), paid for Mrs. Netanyahu. Friends of the IDF was supposed to be paying Bibi’s way. They only paid a small portion of the expense. Netanyahu needed Knesset approval for Belzberg to pay for the trip, but didn’t bother to get it.
Bibi once informed the Knesset that a visit to Brussels would be paid for by the Harvard Club. It wasn’t (another violation). Instead, his $20,000 fee was paid for by a Jewish high tech entrepreneur, Benjamin Vanoudenhove. Netanyahu stayed at a castle owned by a prince who was Vanoudenhove’s business partner. The partners at the time were seeking Israeli business investments which Bibi no doubt expedited for them.
A number of the donors who paid for Bibi’s trips benefitted in a material way from their relationship with Bibi. In one case, Larry Mizel, a billionaire Colorado home builder asked for a private dinner with the Israeli leader. He was informed that the price for the dinner was paying for Bibi’s trip, which Mizel dutifully did. The quid pro quo? Mizel’s company, MDC received a State license to explore for natural gas near Hadera a few months after the prime minister’s trip. You can imagine what was discussed at dinner that night.
Arnon Milchan, chairman of the New Regency film company paid for one of Bibi’s New York trips. Another veteran of the Milken junk bond mill at Drexel was Sig Zises, who funded another of Bibi’s stays in the Goldeneh (in more ways than one) Medineh.
Corporate donors gave Bibi virtual free rein: corporate jets, stays at luxurious hotels (the Connaught in London and the Mark in Manhattan averaging $2,500 per night), dinners at the finest restaurants, chauffeured cars, shopping at luxury boutiques, etc. In a number of cases, his hosts made complex arrangements for special trips to cater to the Netanyahus whims, which the latter cancelled at the last-minute. There were tickets for top London shows, trips for the Netanyahu children to see the latest Harry Potter movie.
In at least one case, two different U.S. Jewish charities, Friends of the Ashdod Medical Center and the Jewish Heritage Foundation, each paid for the same plane ticket. If this sort of double-dipping sounds familiar it’s because Ehud Olmert did this routinely as part of a scandal that also involved corrupt travel practices abetted by Rishon Tours, his own travel agency.
The following is my own contribution to research on Bibi’s self-interested double-dealing: a reader reports that during the 2000-01 academic year Bibi delivered two Millenium lectures (see pg. 5) at the Columbia University School of Business. My source reports that billionaire Orthodox pro-Israel donor, Ira Rennert paid the fees for Bibi’s lectures which were in the range of $50,000 each. I haven’t been able to determine who paid for Bibi’s airfare and hotel on these trips. I have little doubt it was Rennert, which would put this deeply controversial business figure into the mix. Rennert owns a palatial Versailles-sized mansion on the Long Island shore and his companies are known for polluting pristine Latin American rain forest and causing cancer in Ecuadorean peasant women (among other achievements).
Drucker discovered that a Spencer Partrich (Michigan and Florida resident and noted real estate developer) offered Bibi use of his corporate jet on numerous occasions and that the former employed at least three of Bibi’s aides while they were working for Bibi. In Britain, Chaim “Poju” Zabludowicz, the chair of Bicom, the UK version of Aipac, funded Bibi’s trips as did a Manchester Jew named Joshua Rowe. Zabludowicz, a major Tory Party donor, also funded the similarly high-flying travels of Adam Werrity, the infamous best friend of former UK defense minister Liam Fox. Werrity traveled the world seeking to foster regime change in Iran.
Donors to Bibi’s political campaigns are permitted to give only $8,000 per person. But a number have given two or three times that much. One of these is Moshe Ronen, vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, who gave $24,000 for the last campaign. A donor may do this legally by enlisting family and business colleagues to donate. We call it bundling here. But it is illegal to reimburse the donor for the contribution. Drucker believes this may’ve happened in the case of some of these contributions.
Several donors who gave to support Bibi’s election bids aren’t listed in the State Controller’s public report, which means the campaign didn’t report the gift properly. In at least one case a donor gave six times as much as the donation listed by the Controller.
Way back in 1999, Larry Cohler Esses reported on the ways in which Israeli politicians got around then new Israeli campaign finance law which prohibit foreign citizens from supporting Israeli election campaigns. Israeli politicians seeking to help American Jews skirt the law establish their own charities, which then invite them to address their U.S. affiliates. Donations are supposed to support the charity’s work in Israel. Often they do. Sometimes they disappear somewhere between Brooklyn and Tel Aviv. The Israeli leaders also use these events to cultivate and prospect for new political donors. And the fundraisers for the Israeli charity often double as political fundraisers.
This is precisely the route that “Rabbi” Morris Talansky took as a fundraiser for an Israeli hospital while also being Ehud Olmert’s chief U.S. bag man. Similarly, Netanyahu has his own U.S. political fixer, Zeev Rubinstein. Rubinstein makes all the arrangements for the family’s visits to America and often brokers Bibi’s time for those seeking to see him. At a dinner whose guests included Rubinstein, Sheldon Adelson and Bibi, the fixer arranged for a fundraising job with Taglit/Birthright, Adleson’s vanity charity project.
For his trouble, Bibi is suing Channel 10 for $800,000 for libelling him and seeking to close the station for non-payment of royalties and licensing fees to the State–unless it fires Drucker. All this after Ronald Lauder, a part owner of Channel 10, compelled the station to issue an apology to Sheldon Adelson for a documentary it ran about his questionable business practices. That’s press freedom-Israel style.