Netanyahu Told to Return Gifts Received as Prime Minister on State Trips

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Yair Netanyahu, Benjamin Netanyahu, Sara Netanyahu, and Vladimir Putin meet in Tel Aviv, January 2020.
Yair Netanyahu, Benjamin Netanyahu, Sara Netanyahu, and Vladimir Putin meet in Tel Aviv, January 2020.Credit: Aleksey Nikolskyi, Sputnik Kremlin Pool Photo via AP,

The legal adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office is demanding that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, return gifts to the government that they allegedly took in violation of the law.

They had received the gifts on official visits abroad on which it is customary that the leaders and sometimes their spouses and other members of the delegation exchange gifts with their hosts.

The Netanyahus deny they failed to return any gifts that the law required them to return. According to law, the items belong to the Israeli government, although recipients are entitled to ask to borrow items and to put them on display in their office in the scope of their official duties, but once their term ends, they are to be returned to the government. There is an exception for items worth less than 300 shekels ($93), which the prime minister can ask to keep.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the former prime minister and his wife are in possession of 27 gifts whose value exceeds 300 shekels each, and which must be returned, in addition to 15 items worth less than 300 shekels but which also must be returned because the couple never got official permission to keep them.

The gifts were loaned to Netanyahu to put on display in the Prime Minister’s Office and at the official prime minister's residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem during his term in office, but were not returned when Netanyahu left office in June, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Donald Trump and his wife Melania, and Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara stand after their meeting in Jerusalem, May 2017.Credit: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

Legal adviser Shlomit Barnea Farago initially warned about the missing items that same month, approaching Netanyahu’s associates and asking that he return the gifts. When her request went unanswered, at the beginning of August she contacted the former prime minister himself.

“With the end of your term as prime minister, you were to return all of the gifts that you received during your term, and that had been approved to put on display … to the office gift room in the condition in which they had been given, other than reasonable wear due to the passage of time,” she wrote.

According to journalist Ben Caspit, who initially reported on the matter, the unreturned items include a box decorated with gold leaf with the signature of former U.S. President Barack Obama; a holiday plate that the Netanyahus received from the Italian ambassador; an antique Bible that Russian President Vladimir Putin gave to Netanyahu; and a document signed by then-President Donald Trump transferring the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

A statement issued on behalf of the Netanyahus said that all the gifts that were on display at the Prime Minister’s Office or the prime minister’s residence were returned and are not in the former prime minister’s possession. “This is another attempt to create a fictitious affair to deflect attention from the huge 23 million shekel sum that is being now invested from public funds in renovating the private homes of Bennett and [Alternate Prime Minister Yair] Lapid,” the statement alleged.

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