One of the more memorable statements made by the poetess of poverty from the prime minister’s residence, Sara Netanyahu, in the viral video clip in which she mourned her bitter fate over a wreath of dried pomegranates, was, “It’s related to how we try to save money.”
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But on Tuesday the state comptroller’s report was finally published, and we all got a flood of outrageous examples about what happens when they “try to save” at the prime minister’s residences, both official and private: an unbridled, hedonistic waste of public funds on catered meals, in gross violation of regulations; huge sums spent on cleaning the private villa in Caesarea that is usually uninhabited; mind-boggling outlays on make-up and hairdressing.
There’s also the odiferous affair of the friend and Likud party member who was employed as an electrician in that same empty house, also contrary to regulations, on weekends and even Yom Kippur(!). They must be building a private power plant there in case of emergency.
But the most outrageous of all may be how poorly-paid workers who went shopping for the wealthiest prime minister we’ve ever had weren’t reimbursed for the money they paid out of their own pockets. And I wouldn’t envy anyone who tried to get his money back from the missus (since the master is “at work”). Because Bibi and Sara aren’t capable of pulling out their wallets to give, only to take – like when the prime minister forced the state to reimburse him for the 5,000-shekel ($1,290) drought tax legally levied on their Caesarea house.
The prime minister’s associates, both personal and political, predictably tried to downplay the report on Tuesday. They were sent to radio and television studios with talking points hastily prepared by the leader, his wife and their eldest son, Yair. The main motif was an undignified attempt to divert attention to the (also unjustified) expenditures of former President Shimon Peres.
As it were possible to compare a residence that’s primarily an office complex employing 130 people to a private home that is also occasionally used to host guests. Not to mention that Peres is now retired, and that while in office, he served as Netanyahu’s flak jacket against the world. But now Netanyahu has no qualms about sending his Dobermans to attack the former president.
It was embarrassing to listen to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein contorting himself on Army Radio as he tried, to the best of his limited ability, to explain what on earth an electrician was doing in the Caesarea villa every weekend. Clearly, no task is too petty for someone who wants to keep his job in the next Knesset.
And it was sickening to hear respected ministers unblushingly parroting those talking points by trying to blame everything on the former manager of the prime minister’s residence, Meni Naftali, who is currently suing the Netanyahus. Evidently, it was Naftali who forced Sara and Bibi to consume tens of thousands of shekels worth of sushi, or expensive meals ordered in from the Sheraton Hotel, even though the official residence employs a cook; they, in their well-known modesty, only wanted schnitzel and mashed potatoes.
But the scorn ministers and MKs heaped on the report is completely belied by the hysterical preparations Netanyahu and his campaign staff made for its publication. If the report was so irrelevant, why did they treat it like a nuclear missile launched by Iran? Perhaps because they know it’s all true.
And another question: Why has the entire Likud mobilized to defend the prime minister on an issue completely unconnected to the party? Why is Netanyahu – the fearless leader, the only person capable of dealing with Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Islamic State – afraid to go before the cameras and answer questions himself? Why is he hiding behind Steinitz and MK Tzipi Hotovely?
The report’s publication, one month before the election, marks a milestone in a campaign that has thus far skirted substantive issues. But what impact will it have? Apparently, not much.
Ultimately all it does is recount, in dry language and figures with lots of zeroes, what anyone with even minimal knowledge of this country over the last six years already knows: Netanyahu and his wife are embodiments of hedonism, covetousness, stinginess and extravagance with public funds.
Ultimately, there’s nothing new under the broken lights of the breakfast nook on the ground floor of the prime minister’s residence. Netanyahu and his aides will simply feed the narrative that always works, in which he is the victim, the persecuted one, the one they’re plotting to topple to pave the Islamic State’s way to Jerusalem.
Next week, we’ll presumably move on to other issues, like Netanyahu’s speech to Congress the week after and its destructive impact on U.S.-Israel relations. The prime minister has both effective tools and a proven ability to set the agenda, and you can count on him to make the best possible use of them.