Netanyahu's Official Residence Costing Taxpayers Less, but Private Home Cost Surges

The cost of Netanyahu's private residence in Caesarea shot up 55 percent in 2014, but was coupled by a decrease in spending at his official residence in Jerusalem.

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The Netanyahu family’s home in Caesarea.
The Netanyahu family’s home in Caesarea. Credit: Itzik Ben Malki
Zvi Zrahiya
Zvi Zrahiya

While the expenses at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence dropped in 2014, spending at his private home shot up last year, new data published by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) on Thursday reveals.

In 2014, as spending in his official Jerusalem residency dropped by 27 percent to 3 million shekels ($771,774) in comparison to 2013's 4.2 million shekels ($1,080,483), expenses at his private villa in the affluent beachfront community of Caesarea surged by 55 percent. While the private residence only cost tax payers 183,000 shekels ($47,078) in 2013, the price tag grew to 284,000 shekels ($73,061) in 2014.

Officials in the PMO say the number will drop by about 10,000 shekels after the residence is reimbursed for some of the costs by his insurance company. In recent years, the Netanyahu family has faced increasing public and official criticism at what some say is excessive spending.

The most significant increase in spending at the prime minister’s official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem was registered under food and hosting, which shot up by 27 percent: from 246,000 shekels ($63,285) in 2013 to 313,000 shekels ($80,521) in 2014. However, official state visits by foreign dignitaries are not included in this budget.

The most significant drop in expenses was reported in operation costs, which dropped by 39 percent to 138,000 shekels ($35,501) in comparison to 2013's 229,000 shekels ($58,912). This price includes laundry, fumigation, landscaping, remodeling, office supplies, floral arraignments and other perishable items.

Maintenance costs also registered an impressive drop of 31 percent, from 808,000 shekels ($207,864) in 2013 to 551,000 shekels ($141,749) in 2014. This includes the cost of water, electricity, municipal taxes, phone lines and elevator maintenance.

The cost of cleaning the official home of the prime minister also dropped by 34 percent to 567,000 shekels ($145,865) in 2014 in comparison to 866,000 shekels ($222,785) the previous year. The annual price of maintaining the residence's garden remained relatively static – dropping from 78,000 shekels ($20,066) to 77,000 shekels ($19,808) in 2014; as did the cost of furniture, which also dropped by 1,000 shekels, from 35,000 shekels ($9,004) 34,000 shekels ($8,746).

The use of cash in the official residence climbed from 1.9 million shekels ($488,790) to 2.4 million shekels ($617,419).

The budget for Netanyahu's official residence has varied in recent years: In 2009, when he returned to the office, the budget hit 3 million shekels ($771,774). In 2010, it climbed to 3.6 million shekels ($926,129). In 2011 it continued to climb, hitting 4.1 million shekels ($1.05 million) and in 2012 it peaked at 5.4 million shekels ($1.39 million). In 2013, it began to decline, reaching 4.2 million shekels ($1.08 million), and in 2014 it dropped again, hitting the 3 million shekels ($771,774) mark.

The data seems to indicate some austerity on the part of the Netanyahus, however when coupled with a rise in the spending at his private villa, the picture grows more complex. Moreover, the PMO's data failed to address other parts of the prime minister's personal spending, for example, the cost of food at hotels, or the purchasing of scented candles for his private home. It also fails to address security costs.

Last Febuary, a month before the elections, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira published a report claiming the prime minister's residences indulged in exorbitant cleaning, makeup and electrician expenses from 2009 to 2013 under Netanyahu. The report also claimed that bookkeeping seemed shoddy, for example, cleaning expenses at Netanyahu's private residence averaged 8,166 shekels ($2,100)  per month — a sum funded by taxpayers, "even though Mr. Netanyahu and his family spent most of the year at the official residence,” Shapira wrote.

Shapira transferred the material to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein amid a "concern of compromised integrity or possible criminal activity." The report also contained information regarding the possibly illicit employment of an electrician with ties with the Likud.

According to the report, Netanyahu's wife Sara invited the electrician – Avi Fahima – to do electrical work at the private residence in Caesarea, especially on weekends, when rates are higher. Shapira said that for nearly every weekend over the course of three months, Fahima was summoned to do electrical work, including on Yom Kippur.

Fahima, Shapira claimed, was contracted to work at the private residence based on “a misleading presentation," adding that 10,500 shekels was spent from September to November 2009, about 70 percent of the annual sum for electrical work during off hours at the private residence.

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