Netanyahu Overspent Budget for Jerusalem Residence by 50% in 2012

Amid calls for frugality, PM spent more on home than last 4 prime ministers; and, who owned the tender-free ice cream parlor? Sara Netanyahu's ex-hairdresser.

Zvi Zrahiya
Zvi Zrahiya
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Zvi Zrahiya
Zvi Zrahiya

Maintaining the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cost the taxpayer NIS 6.2 million from 2009 to 2011, according to data provided by the Prime Minister’s Office itself at TheMarker’s request.

Data that reached TheMarker from another source indicates that in 2012, the expenses of the prime minister’s official residence on Balfour Street, Jerusalem, totaled NIS 3.3 million. Prime Minister’s Office officials said Sunday that they cannot comment on the data for 2012.

Ergo, from the start of Netanyahu’s second term in 2009 to its end in 2012, his residence cost the state NIS 9.5 million.

These figures do not include expenses for the Netanyahu family’s home in Caesarea or security for the family’s home on Aza Street in Jerusalem.

Going by the figures from the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu is the costliest of the last four prime ministers, according to average monthly cost.

From April 2009 to December 2011, a period of 33 months, the Netanyahus’ stay at the residence has cost NIS 189,239 per month.

But officials at the PMO suggest that the average cost per capita during Netanyahu’s term is extremely low considering Netanyahu lives there with his wife Sara and their two sons, Yair and Avner.

Previous prime ministers lived there only with their wives – except for Ariel Sharon, who lived alone.

The average monthly cost during Ehud Olmert’s 35-month term, from May 1, 2006 to December 31, 2009, was NIS 125,449.

The average monthly cost during Ariel Sharon’s 60-month term, from April 1, 2001 to April 30, 2006, was NIS 61,729.

The average monthly cost during Ehud Barak’s 20-month term, from August 1, 1999 to March 31, 2001, was NIS 103,371.

TheMarker also learned that the proposed budget for the prime minister’s official residence in 2012 was NIS 2.2 million. Actual spending was 50% higher, reaching NIS 3.3 million.

In 2011, the expenses for Netanyahu’s home in Caesarea totaled NIS 184,000. The cost of providing security for the family’s home on Aza Street in Jerusalem was NIS 1.1 million.

The silence of the MKs

The Knesset’s Finance Committee, which discusses the state budget including the budget for the Prime Minister’s Office, received no details about the money that was allocated to the prime minister’s official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. Nor did the Finance Committee get information about the amount the state spent on the Netanyahus’ home in Caesarea or the amount spent on security for their home in Aza Street in Jerusalem.

Don't want to shine the sunlight on the PM at this time

Although Knesset members have been quietly critical that the Finance Committee was left in the dark, they have not said so publicly. Usually, opposition members aren't shy about criticizing the government’s budgetary stumbles. But now, with many of the factions involved in talks to join a coalition led by Netanyahu, they are reluctant to lash out Netanyahu for at hiring a makeup artist at NIS 35,000 per year or budgeting NIS 10,000 a year for ice cream. (Both the makeup artist and the ice-cream parlor received exemptions from tender.)

"Because these are public funds, there should be full transparency," commented Elad Shraga, chairman of the Movement for Quality Government, adding that just as Justice Louis D. Brandeis once said – Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.

“We think that at a time when people are tightening their belts, and particularly when the economy is heading for a massive cutback of NIS 40 billion, the prime minister should be an example, showing that the cutbacks affect his personal budget as well," Shraga said. "It’s not enough that the cutbacks be applied. The public should see what the prime minister is spending its money on.”

Tzruya Medad-Luzon, legal counsel to the Movement for Quality Government, on Sunday urged Netanyahu, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and Accountant General Michal Abadi-Boiangiu to disclose itemized expenses of the prime minister’s official residence for 2012 and explain the jump in spending.

“The prime minister has an obligation to live modestly," Medad-Luzon said. "The expenses of the prime minister and his official residence are borne by the public, most of whom are groaning under financial burdens and who do not enjoy the prime minister’s standard of living. Under the circumstances the prime minister should not live ostentatiously and spend in a way that arouses envy. Netanyahu also cannot hide the bills from the paying public."

The prime minister should set a personal example for elected representatives of appropriate financial behavior, Medad-Luzon added. Simultaneously concealing and puffing up the budget simultaneously with huge budget cutbacks for the state creates a discrepancy between demands that the public demonstrate financial responsibility and the prime minister’s own behavior, she said. "It is inconceivable that the budget of the prime minister and his official residence should be managed far from the public eye, with frequent use of exemptions from tender and in a way that’s not at all frugal,” she summed up.

The ice-cream shop’s owners: Sara Netanyahu’s hairdresser and a convicted tax evader

Meanwhile, it turns out that Rafi Kanfi, a co-owner of Glida Metudela, the ice-cream shop that supplied ice cream to the prime minister’s official residence, is Sara Netanyahu’s former hairdresser.

Hillel Farkash, another co-owner, was convicted in January 2005 of tax evasion. Judge Hana Ben-Ami sentenced him to 12 months’ imprisonment and a fine of NIS 175,000. Farkash served eight months of his sentence.

Farkash also co-owns the Haoman 17 Club in Jerusalem. Judge Ben-Ami sentenced the club’s five owners to 10 to 18 months in prison and hundreds of thousands of shekels in fines for tax offenses and deficient reporting of employees, revenues and salaries amounting to NIS 11 million. The club’s owners settled with the tax authorities, agreeing to pay NIS 4.5 million.

The garden at the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem is supposed to be beautiful.Credit: Alex Levac
Hillel Farkash, co-owner of Glida Metudela and former hairdresser to Sara Netanyahu.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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