Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu - GPO - 6/7/2010
Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu during a flight to Washington D.C., July 6, 2010. Photo by GPO
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She was an El Al flight attendant in her early 30s. He was an inexperienced but promising politician 10 years her senior, twice divorced and on one of his frequent trips abroad. The folk tale goes that their love for one another was ignited in the skies.

Since that formative moment in their relationship, they have made an effort over and over to relive those days, in first class seats on airplanes, and recently at state expense on airplane seats with fold-out beds, followed by stays at fine hotels, whatever the expense ‏(to someone else‏).

When presented with material allegedly containing evidence of a breach of the ethics rules for ministers, which was what Netanyahu was in Ariel Sharon’s cabinet between 2002 and 2005, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss must investigate.

To evade problems as a minister ‏(he was foreign minister and then finance minister‏) in those years, Netanyahu invoked his former job, that of prime minister, saying he should get special privilege as a former head of state.

But there is no such special privilege in Israel for a former head of state. Netanyahu could either be a footloose private citizen or a minister. Either way it would have been irrelevant what he had been before. ‏(His third status, when he was a Knesset member but not a minister was dealt with by the Knesset Ethics Committee‏).

Many Israelis would have been happy had he simply retained his status as former prime minister, which he acquired in 1999, even if he didn’t have the ascetic modesty of his Likud predecessor Yitzhak Shamir. But he returned to politics.

Netanyahu’s demand that he be treated like former President Bill Clinton and former Prime Minister Tony Blair is ridiculous.

Clinton and Blair will always be “formers” and will never return to office. If Netanayhu was now just another businessman from Caesarea or a backbencher MK, his old flight records wouldn’t interest a soul.

The rules of the Asher Committee on conflicts of interest bar ministers from engaging in speeches or lectures for compensation, and financing a minister’s wife’s travel expenses could be considered compensation.

Another provision provides that ministers will not receive a salary or benefit other than the salary he receives from the state. And ministers are also required to provide the State Comptroller with a detailed annual statement of income regarding themselves and other members of their families.

Netanyahu’s lawyers’ job will be to show that the evidence of benefits provided to Sara Netanyahu in connection with the couple’s travels didn’t constitute income that had to be reported ‏(and on which taxes had to be paid‏).

Wednesday, in one of the three prime-time media appearances the couple made this week, Netanyahu promised to remain in office for many more years, despite the work of journalists who he says want to bring about his downfall.

In fact the opposite is true. Journalists are making a nice living from Netanyahu. Long live the prime minister and his wife.