Netanyahus' Friends Take to TV: 'They Live Modestly'

Close cronies cite the prime minister's long hours, the expense of entertaining, and on the cosmetics budget: 'NIS 64,000 is a token.'

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Close friends of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara appeared on Israeli television Saturday night to rebut the widespread public criticism over the spending of public funds for personal expenses.

The $127,000 installation of a double bed and enclosed room on the plane that flew the Netanyahus to London in April, as well as the publication of expenses for the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem and private home in Caesarea, have been singled out for particular disapproval.

Attorney Yossi Cohen, who is close to the couple, told Israel Channel 2 news that as someone familiar with the lifestyle of Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, "the Netanyahus don't live extravagantly. Their lives are very modest."

Referring to the Jerusalem residence, Cohen said, "This is not an ordinary residence. In effect, it's a building composed largely of offices and a place for receiving visitors. There is a tremendous amount of activity here. I'm often there at 10 P.M., and I see the prime minister entering the office and sitting and working until 11 P.M."

Attorney David Shimron, the couple's lawyer, said in an interview to Israel Channel 10 news that the increased spending was a result of Netanyahu's late-night work habits.

"Netanyahu, during the first two years of his term, used to work until midnight. In the past two years [he's been working] until 1 A.M. or 2 A.M.," Shimron said, adding, "When he's at home he's not there alone enjoying himself. He gets visitors from the various security, political and diplomatic agencies."

Cohen confirmed Shimron's statements in his interview: "First of all, there has been a huge increase in the activity in the prime minister's residence. “It’s the most difficult job in the world. This house is always hosting heads of the Mossad and security agencies, ministers, presidents and prime ministers,” he said. “The workers also eat on the residence’s bill.”

Regarding the expenses on the Caesarea home, Shimron said, "the prime minister is tightening his belt," adding, "A few months ago the prime minister, on his own initiative, asked to have an accountant appointed to examine the expenditures of the official residence and his private home in Caesarea. As a result expenses were cut by 15 percent and by the end of the year they will be cut by another 15 percent."

Regarding the increase in spending on cosmetics by the prime minister and his wife, which doubled from NIS 30,000 to approximately NIS 60,000, Cohen said: "We know that NIS 64,000 for such a thing is a token sum. The prime minister has to look his best for world leaders. It's a relatively modest budget."

Regarding the dramatic increase in expenditures on cleaning at the Jerusalem residence, which reportedly rose from NIS 848,000 for 2011 to NIS 1.2 million in 2012, Cohen said, "It's a lie. The so-called cleaning expenses are the expenses of all of the employees and the food in the prime minister's residence. There was a period when there was no cook and we were forced to order food from outside. That's why there was an increase in expenditures."

Turning to reports on the Jerusalem residence's NIS 10,000 annual ice-cream budget, Shimron noted that the sum averages out to "less than 10 shekels a day." Regarding the "flying bed," the attorney said, "they didn't photograph Netanyahu when he slept on the floor on the flight back from Holland."

Speaking at a cultural event in the Southern Sharon Regional Council on Friday, Health Minister Yael German said, "Public figures have to serve as a personal example," adding, "In all my 14 years as mayor of Herzliya I never once flew at public expense and I even passed a resolution in the city council to the effect that salaried elected officials would not travel at public expense."

But she noted that as a cabinet minister she cannot criticize the decisions of the prime minister.

A protest outside the Netanyahus' residence, the evening of May 18, 2013. The sign reads: 'Flying bed syndrome'.Credit: Rami Chelouche
PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, at the funeral of Margaret Thatcher in London on April 17.Credit: AP

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