American Millionaire and Netanyahu Crony Buys Half of PM's Family Estate

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The Jerusalem home of Benjamin Netanyahu's late father Benzion. Inset: Spencer M. Partrich and Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Jerusalem home of Benjamin Netanyahu's late father Benzion. Inset: Spencer M. Partrich and Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Lior Mizrahi, Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images, Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Spencer M. Partrich, an American millionaire and friend of Benjamin Netanyahu, recently became a partner in a Jerusalem property with the prime minister. Ido Netanyahu, brother to the prime minister, sold his half of the house that he and Benjamin Netanyahu had inherited from their parents to Partrich.

Both seller, Ido Netanyahu, and buyer, Partrich, were represented in the deal by attorney David Shimron, who also handled the father Benzion Netanyahu’s estate.

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Though Partrich bought 50 percent of the property, Israeli Tax Authority figures in the public domain reveal a figure for 25 percent of the asset – 4.2 million.

In conversation, Partrich confirmed that he had bought half the property and that the one who handled the transaction in Israel was the law firm of Shimron-Molho. He hasn’t decided what to do with the business yet, Partrich said, and declined to suggest what he could do given that he owns only half of it. Nor would he answer questions about the nature of his relations with the prime minister.

Spencer M. Partrich in 2006.Credit: Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images

The broader Israeli public learned about Partrich in 2011, when Channel 10 correspondent Raviv Drucker was looking into Netanyahu’s traveling habits. Between the time he stepped down as prime minister in 1999, to his return to government a decade later, various businessmen had funded trips and accommodation for the prime minister and his family outside of Israel. A document prepared by Netanyahu’s bureau and revealed in the Drucker exposè called Partrich: “Friend. Rich. N’s air taxi in the U.S. Did not donate directly but helps in deed.”

The Jerusalem dwelling in question was the childhood home of the Netanyahu family in a pricey part of Katamon, on 4 Haportzim Street. In April 2012, Benjamin Netanyahu’s father, Benzion Netanyahu, died and left the home – a big one, built in Arab style on a lot 582 square meters – to his two sons, Benjamin and Ido Netanyahu, in equal shares.

At the start of the week, a visit to the house showed that its blinds were shut. It appears empty. There is a sign of a security company at the entrance to the yard, but the gate is broken and the neglected garden seems to house mainly kittens. A neighbor across the street says the building has been abandoned since Benzion Netanyahu’s death, though people show up to do some gardening from time to time.

Following the father’s demise, a contractor contacted the family and offered to buy the house, but the prime minister decided not to sell his share at this time. Ido did prefer to do so, and sought a family friend to assume his half – somebody who would not be inimical to the prime minister or try to pressure him into moves (regarding the property). The prime minister has yet to decide what he wants to do with his share.

Yoni Square, near Netanyahu's childhood home in Jerusalem.Credit: ליאור מזרחי

The Netanyahu brothers received formal possession of the property, pursuant to an inheritance order in the lands registry, in October 2015, according to Justice Ministry documentation. Each received half of the asset. Ido registered a note in Partrich’s name in October 2015 and the deal was consummated this month, in early December 2016, transferring that half of the house to the possession of a foreign company registered in Michigan called SMP Haportzim. A check of public-domain documents in Michigan finds that this company was registered in September 2015, shortly before the acquisition, and that it is owned by Partrich – SMP are his initials.

The benefit to Partridge in buying half the property is not clear. He would most probably need the prime minister’s permission to make any moves with it, or would have to file in court to dismantle their partnership in it. There are building rights associated with the house: an extra floor could be built. Netanyahu and Partrich could decide to expand it and convert it into a proper mansion, or turn it into a business prospect, tearing down the present edifice and building upward: It is relatively low compared with the buildings around it, which rise to four and five stories.

He doesn’t seem to need it for dwelling. Partrich presently lives in a luxury suburb of Detroit and owns a number of businesses in America, chiefly in real estate. In 2006 he sniffed at possibly acquiring the Israeli company Granite Hacarmel, but nothing came of the deal and insofar as is known, the house aside, he has no business interests in Israel. He is active in the American Jewish and Zionist community and owns a collection of photographs of Paul Goldman from the period of the British Mandate and the State of Israel’s early days.

In the recent United States elections, he donated to Marco Rubio. Here, he is considered close to Netanyahu. In 2014, for instance, journalist Ben Caspit wrote in Maariv that Partrich paid for Netanyahu’s meal at a New Jersey restaurant, where they ate with other friends of the prime minister. Partridge is also a prominent donor to the Michigan branch of the Friends of the IDF (FIDF). Netanyahu sent a video to a gala held in Partrich’s honor in November 2015, in which Netanyahu commended FIDF “for honoring a very special individual, my close friend and a committed, dedicated Jew, Spencer M. Partrich.”

Nir Hefetz, private spokesman for the prime minister, said on behalf of Ido and Benjamin Netanyahu that the transaction with Partrich was done at market prices, based on an assessment, and had been reported to the tax authorities. “The prime minister is not a party to the transaction,” Hefetz added, and noted that Shimron-Molho has been representing Ido Netanyahu for decades.

Hefetz also delivered a statement by Partrich that he bought the property as a private person from Ido Netanyahu, not the prime minister, at a price set by an assessor. There are unexploited building rights on the land that allow more stories to be constructed. He is thinking of building an apartment building on the site, or perhaps a museum and archive, Partrich stated.

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