Netanyahu’s Residences Cost State Some 2 Million Shekels in 2014

Prime Minister’s Office doesn’t separate expenses of the official residence from those of the private house.

Itzik Ben Malki

The state spent some two millions shekels ($525,000) on the prime minister’s residences in 2014.

Of that sum, about 1.7 million shekels were spent on the official residence in Jerusalem and 284,000 shekels on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s private home in Caesarea.

The information was released in response to a court order issued in late July at the request of the Movement for Freedom of Information.

The accounts contain a very detailed breakdown of spending on food, including separate entries for soft drinks, wine, coffee and other items – though not ice cream. They also include a long list of payments for catered meals, including one particularly expensive meal that cost 22,445 shekels.

A few particularly high bills stand out, including a 50,000-shekel purchase of food and a 17,818-shekel bill for repairing a pergola. Expenses for the Bible study group that meets at the prime minister’s residence ran to 26,054 shekels.

In its introduction to the report, the Prime Minister’s Office noted that, under a decision by the Knesset Finance Committee, the state covers the expenses of a serving prime minister’s private home as well as those of his official residence. Though that decision put no limits on outlays for a premier’s private home, regulations approved by the Attorney General’s Office in 2001 stipulate that the state will cover the cost of maintaining the house, but will not pay for any improvements.

The report noted that Netanyahu’s private home doubles as a workplace: He holds many working meetings there and also uses it to host Israeli and overseas officials. In addition, it said, some expenditures for this home are related to the prime minister’s security.

Nevertheless, the report added, the office’s accounting system made it impossible to completely separate expenditures at the Caesarea home from those of the official residence.

The Movement for Freedom of Information complained that the data released by the Prime Minister’s Office wasn’t sufficiently transparent.

“The material given to the movement is partial and doesn’t separate the expenses of the private house from those of the official residence,” said attorney Einat Hurvitz, the organization’s director. “One would have expected that, since a petition on this matter had been submitted to the court in the past, the Prime Minister’s Office would have published the information in full of its own initiative, in a way that would enable the public to examine the division of the expenditures.”

The Prime Minister’s Office has previously told the court that it could not accede to the organization’s request to provide it with copies of invoices, because for security reasons, as dictated by the security services, it could not give unauthorized parties the names of suppliers of goods and services to the prime minister.

The Prime Minister’s Office said yesterday that it “published a report on spending at the prime minister’s residence of its own initiative back in May. The data shows that annual expenditures in 2014 were the lowest of the past five years, constituting a 19 percent decrease compared to the previous year. The information was published in accordance with security regulations.”