Tourism minister's partying is Israel's diplomatic headache
By Barak Ravid • Ha'aretz
Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov's embarrassing behavior in Spain appears to be the tip of the iceberg: Haaretz has learned of other instances of ministerial misbehavior in Belarus, Brazil and Argentina.
Misezhnikov's week-long official visit to Spain and Portugal last month turned into an embarrassing fiasco, as Haaretz reported Monday. The visit was replete with meetings that he either canceled or arrived at late, sometimes because he was out on the town; it also included a covert handshake with an Iranian official.
However, on a trip to Belarus several months ago, the minister's behavior was no less bewildering, a Foreign Ministry source told Haaretz.
Misezhnikov insisted on flying to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on Friday afternoon, despite the ministry's advice that he postpone the trip, as he would not be able to hold work meetings on the Sabbath. He landed in Minsk three and a half hours before the Sabbath began.
He did manage to fit in two work meetings that afternoon, including one with his Belarussian counterpart. That meeting lengthened into a joint dinner.
But then, even though he had no other work meetings scheduled, Misezhnikov stayed in Minsk until Sunday night. From Friday evening until his departure, he engaged in private activity - at the Israeli taxpayer's expense.
Two months ago, Misezhnikov accompanied President Shimon Peres to Brazil and Argentina, along with dozens of businesspeople. Here, too, the minister was late for appointments, went to bars at night and failed to appear at formal events, among other inappropriate acts.
Three sources said that one of the most embarrassing incidents was on the evening the president's entourage was invited to a football game at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana stadium. After the game, Rio de Janeiro's mayor had planned a festive cocktail party for Peres, Misezhnikov and the rest of the Israeli delegation.
Before the game, the entire entourage, including some 40 businesspeople, waited for an hour outside the hotel until Misezhnikov arrived. Then he left the game in the middle and did not show up for the cocktail party at all.
"Everyone asked where the tourism minister had disappeared to," one source said.
In the evenings, Misezhnikov repeatedly went out to restaurants and bars, returning late at night. On several occasions, he overslept and was late for meetings the following day. He even canceled some of the meetings, saying he was tired.
On one morning when Misezhnikov had canceled his meetings, he was seen returning from the beach, one source said.
The main event for the Israeli delegation in Argentina was a memorial ceremony at the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which had been devastated by a terrorist bombing in 1994. But Misezhnikov was annoyed because the ceremony was delayed for security reasons - and as dozens of Jewish community leaders looked on in astonishment, he simply walked out.
"His conduct was disgraceful," one source said. "I was ashamed that he was a minister."
"These allegations are wacky and false, made by anonymous sources, and they reek of personal or political persecution," Misezhnikov reportedly told his associates on Monday. He also accused the sources of trying to undermine his "professional achievements."
On the record, his aides said he left the memorial ceremony in Buenos Aires because he did not want to cancel a work meeting, and left the football game in Brazil and skipped the cocktail party because he had to be somewhere else.
The claims regarding the minister's night life, they added, were "despicable allegations and lies."