Thursday, 28 March 2013

Space for Barack, but not Barak: Embarrassment for Israel after former premier is excluded from Obama state dinner and events

Ehud Barak was not invited to any official functions, despite glittering military and political careers

Last week’s state dinner thrown by Israel for the visit of Barack Obama was a glitzy affair: there were television personalities, politicians, models and even The Independent was invited, at least to cover the event. But there was no place for Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, prompting an apology from the current premier.

Indeed, Mr Barak, who until just 48 hours before Barack Obama arrived in Israel was country’s defence minister, was notable by his absence at all the official functions last week, despite glittering military and political careers, and a close association with the United States.

According to the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Mr Barak last weekend to apologise for missing him off every scheduled event with the American guests. Until last Monday, as defence minister, Mr Barak was responsible for strategic relations with Washington and had even served as Mr Netanyahu’s envoy to the US.

According to Haaretz, friends of the former prime minster and Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) chief of staff were, “astounded that organisers in both capitals forgot to put Barak on the guest lists.” The newspaper reported that a source at the prime minister’s office said that Mr Netanyahu had called his former colleague because he felt uncomfortable at Mr Barak’s omission.

A source close the Israeli prime minister told The Independent that Mr Netanyahu had indeed wanted Mr Barak to be included in some capacity during the Obama visit and did later apologise.

The social highlight of the American president’s visit was a gala dinner thrown by Shimon Peres, the Israeli president. About 120 guests were invited, drawn equally from both Israel and the US.

Among them were the heads of the parties in Israel’s new coalition government, military chiefs, religious leaders and TV celebrities. Like Mr Barak, many guests had a long history of strengthening ties between the two countries. Others, however, appear to have been slightly more fortunate to receive such a gilt-edged ticket.

Several personal friends of Mr Peres were present, as was the newly crowned Miss Israel, 22-year-old Yityish Aynaw, the first winner of Ethiopian descent, who claimed that Mr Obama had been a “notable influence on her life”. Following the dinner, Ms Aynaw described the American president as “a world-class hunk, charming and an extraordinary gentleman.”

While Mr Netanyahu’s office was responsible for organising most of the Obama visit, the state dinner – and its guest list – was the responsibility of Mr Peres’s staff. Sources close Mr Peres's office said that Mr Barak was not invited to the gala dinner at the president’s residence because he was no longer a cabinet minister on the evening of the event. It was also noted that only 60 Israelis were invited and that competition for the invitations was fierce.

Mr Barak’s CV reads like a guide on how to become an Israeli national hero. He served the IDF, or Israeli army for 35 years, eventually becoming chief of the general staff, and afterwards moved into politics. Becoming foreign minister within months of being elected as a member of parliament, he was elected prime minster just four years later, beating the then incumbent Mr Netanyahu by a wide margin. He has also worked for the American IT company Electronic Data Systems.

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