According to a report by Israel's Channel 10 News on Wednesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu billed two organizations for the same flight after he attended a function in the United States in September 2006.
The allegations, which have gained media steam under the hyped-sobriquet "Bibi Tours Affair" are at the center of a shooting war between politicians in the ruling Likud party and its chief rival, the Kadima Party, in the opposition. It also evoked rare comment from Prime Minister Netanyahu's wife Sarah who took aim at the press for its insistence on printing "evil gossip."
The function in question was aimed to promote the establishment of a hospital in Israel's southern town of Ashdod. Channel 10, citing documents and invoices, alleges Netanyahu received $8,237 for the flight from the Ashdod Medical Center, and the same amount from the Heritage organization.
Netanyahu received permission from the Knesset's Ethics Committee to bill the flight to the medical center, but not to Heritage. A spokesperson for Heritage refused to comment on what precisely the organization paid for, saying its financial disbursements were none of the viewers' concern.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) expressed concern over the Bibi Tours Affair at a workshop at the Yuval Ne'eman School of Science Technology and Security Tel Aviv University. Livni said she there was a danger of the public was losing faith in politicians and the political system. "Especially if they start to see us as threats," Livni said. "We can not afford a situation where the public stops believing politicians."
Livni took the opportunity to fire back at Likud politicians who said the Netanyahu's conduct was unexceptional and questioned her motives for supporting the investigation. "Politicians are the ones that will determine the future of our children and grandchildren," Livni said. "Saying that everyone is corrupt is the refuge of the corrupt."
"Integrity is not just a nice thing to have politicians," Livni said. "It is an essential part of the process of change Israel must undergo. The process of repairing public trust can be done only with a leadership that takes responsibility for any ethical breach. Responsibility for peace, responsibility for war, and responsibility for providing benefits."
"We live in a glass aquarium and tried for our actions," Livni concluded.
Livni herself was a senior member of the Sharon and Olmert governments, which were notoriously riddled with corruption. Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his son Omri were implicated in the Greek Island Affair, while Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been indicted in three separate corruption scandals.
Netanyahu, who is suing Channel 10 and Maariv for 1 Million NIS each over the allegations, responded to Channel 10's latest report via his attorney David Shimron: "There was no case of double billing for any trip undertaken by Mr. Netanyahu…in respect to the trip to the US in September 2006, this flight was funded by several bodies at a total sum of some $32,000. This sum was used to purchase tickets used throughout the trip. Just like in every other case, there are no 'leftovers' here or the double purchase of tickets, and every organization knew who it was paying for."