Half a million dollars just to hear Bill Clinton speak?


Former US president Bill Clinton is one of the 231 candidates submitted to the Nobel Institute for the Nobel Peace Prize. Other nominees include WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning and the European Union.



TEL AVIV, Israel — Is it worth half a million dollars just to hear Bill Clinton speak?

Many Israelis apparently don't think so, and they're outraged that an iconic foundation would hand over such a steep sum.

The fee was to be paid to the former US president's foundation, as part of a huge bash to celebrate the 90th birthday of President Shimon Peres.

The scheduled speech and Q&A in Israel next week are currently in limbo.

The kerfuffle erupted when Israeli journalists found out Clinton's fee was to be paid by the Jewish National Fund, a philanthropy known for planting trees and building forests, and itself almost as much of a national icon as the president.

Israelis were shocked. The high-octane arrangement between foundations seemed to put the lie to the notion that big names such as Clinton, Tony Blair and Mikhail Gorbachev were all arriving out of a disinterested desire to celebrate the big birthday with Peres.

The JNF is known for little blue and white collection boxes that take shekels, ostensibly to "make the desert green." It has existed since pre-state Palestine.

Outrage over money being diverted to the coffers of the Clinton Foundation has inflicted damage on the JNF's reputation as a clean, neutral, ecology-minded institution.

When it emerged that the guests be asked to pay $800 per plate, the prestige of Peres' entire celebration seemed in danger of combusting.

First the $800 "contribution" was cancelled. Then the JNF awkwardly announced it was withdrawing from the soirée. A spokesman understatedly said that "in the present public atmosphere it's preferable not to participate in the event." 

Half a million dollars may not seem to be much money in the jet-set world of "you scratch my back I'll scratch your back" foundation work, but for Israelis, the exchange felt scandalous. At present, it appears the Peres Foundation will have to come up with the money itself.