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Olmert’s American visit: Parading an embarassment

by Brad A. Greenberg

June 2, 2008 | 11:48 am

First, let’s discuss junkets. All politicians take them, and no doubt some are valuable. Others are quite troubling. Journalists being journalists condemn politicians who accept travel from vested interests and criticize those who finance foreign visits using public funds. Last week, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who on June 11 will begin a seven-day tour of Israel’s green technology and security advancements, caught the brunt of the LA Daily News’ editorial blunt:

In the best of financial times, taxpayers are justified in their suspicions of political junkets. Too often, these publicly funded trips are barely disguised vacations for government officials, payoffs to political cronies and private power brokers, or a way to cement a politician’s public profile among various key constituencies.

But in tough financial times like these - with local governments planning massive service cuts and fee hikes - junketeers are all the more obligated to prove that their field trips are truly worth the public’s money.

That is especially true of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s weeklong trip to Israel in June, which will be paid for by the city’s airports, port, and water and power departments.

To be sure, there are conceivable, legitimate travel expenses for government officials, especially in such a massive and complex city as Los Angeles. The Mayor’s Office cites the trip to Israel as a chance to bring city leaders up to speed on developments in aviation, security and environmental sustainability - all valid city concerns.

That said, the details available so far don’t go far enough to justify the untold thousands in taxpayer funds this trip will cost. ...

There are legitimate reasons for city officials to travel on the public’s dime - but politics and R&R aren’t among them.

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Today’s dignitary, or maybe in this case indignitary, to be called out was Ehud Olmert, who tomorrow begins what will likely be his final American trip as Israel’s prime minister. From Haaretz:

wherever he goes, he will be shadowed by the cloud of suspicions of public and criminal corruption that hovers above him. The media will recall details from the testimony of fund-raiser Morris Talansky, senior U.S. officials will be asked for their opinion, and every element of the trip, from the flight to the hotel rooms, will be scrupulously reviewed, a blunt reference to Olmert’s extravagance at the expense of Talansky, Jewish organizations or the State of Israel.

It will be an embarrassing spectacle that will last several days and add to Israel’s disgrace. As if it weren’t enough that its prime minister is suspected of serious offenses, Israel insists on exposing him to the cameras of the entire world.

This is especially true of the White House, where Olmert will meet with President George W. Bush. Olmert’s associates have been hinting that fateful issues - a code name for the Iranian nuclear program - will be discussed at this meeting. It is possible that the two will discuss this issue again, but it is hard to believe that there have been any dramatic changes since their previous meeting in Jerusalem just a few weeks ago. After all, if it weren’t for the AIPAC conference, Olmert would not be going to Washington and meeting again with Bush.

Olmert is trying to create the appearance of a statesman engrossed in official matters, but the result is infuriating. He has lost what was left of the public trust necessary to advance policy, even when the policy itself is acceptable to many people in Israel. He is postponing the end, and in so doing is sentencing Israel to too long a period of government paralysis and personal and partisan wrestling. Signs of this are evident in the disruptions to the government’s functioning, as well as in the security sphere.

By refusing to resign, or at the very least declare himself incapacitated for the coming months, Olmert is sentencing his government to a slow death, instead of granting it the grace of departing in one fell swoop.

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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