High Court: Disclosing Netanyahu's Residential Expenses Is in the Public Interest

Although the court rejected the petitioner's request for an itemized list, it ordered that general information be given because details about how expenses at the premier's residence are managed 'aren’t mere gossip'

Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit
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Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s private home in Caesarea
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s private home in CaesareaCredit: Alon Ron
Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit

The High Court of Justice rejected a petition that sought a detailed list of all expenditures at the prime minister’s residences in 2015, due to the allocation of resources required to do so, but ordered general information about such expenses to be disclosed, finding that there is a public interest in publication of this information.

The petitioners, the Movement for Freedom of Information, had sought an itemized list, with receipts attached, of every government outlay in 2015 at both the official residence and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s private home in Caesarea. The court rejected this request on the grounds that sorting through all these receipts to separate those that could be made public without violating anyone’s privacy from those that could not would “require an unreasonable allocation of resources.” 

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Consequently, it said, should the petitioners file a narrower request for information “that would require a reasonable allocation of resources, it seems, with all due caution, that it would be appropriate to grant it.”

Even so, writing for the majority, outgoing Deputy President Hanan Melcer emphasized that the public has an interest in such information: “Details about the management of expenses at the prime minister’s residence aren’t mere gossip, because we’re talking about the budget of a state institution that’s funded by public funds.” Moreover, this is an issue “that has been on the public agenda, and the state comptroller even wrote a special audit report on this issue that was released in 2015 and pointed to numerous problems.”

The court therefore ordered the official responsible for the prime minister’s residence to give the petitioner general information about 2015 expenses at both residences within 90 days, sorted into categories such as maintenance, food, hospitality, cleaning, along with comparative figures for previous years. 

Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu Credit: Emil Salman

Melcer also ruled that the petitioner should be given all receipts for dry cleaning expenses in 2015, since the relevant official had chosen to give it those receipts for 2014 on the grounds that they were too undetailed to pose a threat to anyone’s privacy. Melcer noted that privacy concerns do not constitute an impediment to the disclosure of the information, and emphasized that the court's ruling turned on resource allocation concerns.  

In a minority opinion, Justice Neal Hendel emphasized privacy concerns, and asserted that the disclosure of dry cleaning receipts could violate the Netanyahus’ privacy, as the receipts fall under privacy protection laws, even if the level of detail in the invoices is rather low.

Justice George Karra, in a concurring opinion, criticized the manner in which the Prime Minister's Office handled expenditures, citing his "discomfort that an administrative authority did not operate efficiently, for example by scanning and cataloging of expense receipts, as this is also necessary even for the sake of self-monitoring and compliance with regulations.”

Rachely Edri, CEO of the Movement for Freedom of Information, said the ruling “doesn’t really provide good news for information seekers.” At the same time, Edri also conveyed hope in the new government and called on it to follow “the standards that are customary abroad and act with maximum transparency, as the court, in its ruling, supports and understands the importance of public reporting and oversight.”

She also urged both Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, who is slated to replace him in two years, to proactively report on expenditures incurred by them and paid out of public funds, and to work to "clearly separate" their private and public expenses. 

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