A company controlled by U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein donated to the political activity of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Haaretz has learned.
Another donor to Barak's political activity was an Israel Defense Forces commander involved in the Tze'elim 2 training accident in 1992.
In 2017, several of Barak's associates established “Achrayut Leumit – Yisrael Habayit Sheli” (or National Responsibility – Israel is my Home in Hebrew), a public-benefit corporation, which was intended to serve as an organizational platform should Barak return to politics. The company was a main partner in the "Without unity the vote is lost" campaign that called on the leaders of the center-left, including Barak, to join forces ahead of the previous election.
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The company was registered by attorney Oshi Elmaliah, who was a political adviser to Barak during his tenure as defense minister and later served as director-general of Barak’s Atzmaut party. Seven people were listed as the company's shareholders, all of whom were also members of the board of directors. One was Tal Brog, Barak’s niece, the daughter of Barak’s brother Avinoam Brog. Others included Dana Zaidman, who aided Barak when he ran for the leadership of the Labor Party in 2007; his former adviser Itai Winterstein; veteran Labor activist Lior Sethon, identified with Barak from his days as prime minister; and Barak Weissman, who worked for Atzmaut.
Achrayut Leumit raised donations from U.S. businessmen, and the corporation’s financial reports for 2017 – which Haaretz has obtained – reveal that it raised 1.6 million shekels ($450,000) that year.
The main donor, who infused some 350,000 shekels ($96,000) into the company, was Bill Ackman, an American investment manager and owner of the Pershing Square Capital Management hedge fund. In addition, high-tech investor Lewis Pell donated 180,000 shekels ($50,809) to the company, and other donors included Businessmen Martin Peretz, David Benrimon and Bruce Slovin.
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Another donor, who transferred 174,000 shekels ($49,115) to the organization, was Doron Kempel, a successful high-tech entrepreneur and the commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal commando force involved in the Tze’elim 2 training accident that took place during a drill held by the elite combat unit, which simulated a top secret operation to assassinate then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Barak, who was the chief of staff and the man who came up with the plan, observed the drill alongside the IDF's senior echelons. During the drill's "dry" stage, which wasn't supposed to include live fire, one of the troops accidently launched a missile at a manned building.
Five Sayeret Matkal soldiers were killed and five others were wounded. Following an investigation into the incident, Kempel and another officer were prosecuted and convicted of negligent homicide. In the past, Kempel was awarded the chief of staff citation, the army’s fourth highest award for bravery.
Another donation, in the amount of 144,000 shekels ($40,647), came from HBRK Associates, a company associated with Epstein. A civil lawsuit filed against Epstein by women who say he sexually assaulted them, states that HBRK paid for the victims' flights from Florida to New York. In August, Epstein committed suicide in a New York jail cell after being accused of sex trafficking of minors and sex trafficking conspiracy.
In 2008, Epstein was convicted of soliciting and procuring a person under age 18 for prostitution. He served 13 months in a country lockup, under an arrangement that allowed him to serve his sentence in a private division, from which he was allowed to leave for work six days a week. The lenient arrangements sparked public outcry in the U.S.
Haaretz revealed in July that Epstein partnered with Barak in 2015 to invest millions of shekels in the startup in which the former prime minister was one of the main shareholders.
Following the publication, Barak said he had instructed his attorneys to examine dissolving the partnership. After Epstein’s suicide, Barak said that “I am thinking today, first of all, of the victims who bear the price of the shocking things he did. Like many respectable people in the United States that we have heard about, I would have preferred in retrospect for this relationship to never have been formed.”
Achrayut Leumit said in a statement that the donation in question was made in March 2017 by a company that “donated to many civil society organizations in the United States, and now it turns out that Epstein was one of its shareholders. When the details became clear, and because of the severity of Epstein’s actions, the Achrayut Leumit organization is working to transfer the total amount of the donation to organizations that aid youth at risk.
“Achrayut Leumit has relations and cooperates with many groups and individuals, including former Prime Minister Ehud Barak in order to achieve its goals and advance the values for which it was established,” said the organization.