This story has been updated. See the note below for details.
REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Saying he wanted to reconnect with average Israelis, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has sold his posh, high-rise Tel Aviv apartment, which had been a source of public scorn in a country where -- until recently -- voters liked to see their leaders living as simply and modestly as they did.
But the deal also allowed the former prime minister to pocket a cool $4-million profit and raised a few eyebrows about why Barak is cashing out of the Tel Aviv real estate market just as Israel is threatening to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, a move many fear could result in Iranian-funded missiles raining down on the seaside city.
Barak has been struggling with an image problem for years. Opinion polls show him to be among Israel’s least-popular politicians. After splitting from the Labor Party last year and remaining in the current right-wing government, Barak and his newly formed Independence party may not even win him enough votes in the next election to secure him a seat in the Knesset, or parliament.
In a note this week posted on his Facebook page, Barak said he decided to sell to reduce the “sense of alienation and detachment from vast sectors of the public.” Yet for many, his profit on the deal only heightened those feelings, even though Barak and his wife said they would move to a more modest apartment.
The Akirov Towers apartment sold for about $7 million. The buyer was not disclosed, but one report said gaming businessman Teddy Sagi, who already owns space on the same 31st floor, purchased the unit.
Barak’s wealth has hurt his image, particularly after last year's massive social welfare protests against Israel's high cost of living. He is one of Israel’s richest politicians, despite spending most of his career in politics until 2001, when he entered the private sector for about six years. His fortune is estimated at about $19 million.
[Updated March 20, 10:39 a.m.: Though the apartment was listed for sale in 2008 with an asking price of more than $10 million, Barak’s decision to accept a lower offer at this time fueled a whisper campaign among pundits and bloggers, who wondered whether the defense minister’s move might be related to Israel’s threat to attack Iran. Many believe Tel Aviv would be hardest hit if Iran or its proxies retaliate.
Israeli blogger Guy Mashiach called the sale a sign that it’s going to be a “hot summer .... Why did Barak sell? Because he’s the only one who knows what’s going to happen here tomorrow.”]
Photo: Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, left, attends a news conference with his German counterpart, Thomas de Maiziere, in Berlin on Tuesday. Barak has sold his Tel Aviv apartment for about $7 million. Credit: John MacDougall / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images.