A Short Visit by the Netanyahus to New York Cost Israeli Taxpayers Over $1.7 Million

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PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, before departing for a trip abroad in September, 2015.
The Netanyahus head out to New York last September.Credit: Avi Ohayon / GPO

Hairstyling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his trip to New York last fall cost the Israeli taxpayer $1,600. "Prime minister’s makeup artist," $1,750; “Wine bought for the prime minister,” $64.20; chocolate, $4. Matches, the price of which apparently rose during the Obama administration, were $8.69.

The items are just a few in the account of the prime minister’s expenses during the United Nations General Assembly in late September and early October 2015. The visit cost over 6.7 million shekels ($1.73 million), of which some 625,000 shekels were spent over five or six days in New York. The flight alone cost $1.5 million.

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry, both of which are controlled by Netanyahu, tried for several months to suppress this information from Shahar Ben-Meir, a lawyer from Ramat Gan who petitioned the Jerusalem District Court under the Freedom of Information Law.

On Tuesday, Ben-Meir defeated the Jerusalem district prosecution’s department of civil matters, the same department that was defeated in the cases of former prime minister’s residence employees Meni Naftali and Guy Eliyahu in the Jerusalem Labor Court. The prosecutor’s office submitted a document with a “detailed table of the expenses of the prime minister and his party” between September 29 and October 4, 2015.

The data table was prepared by the Foreign Ministry, whose representatives in New York – the Israeli consulate and the Israeli mission to the UN – handled the details and paid the bills. The consulate prepared the spreadsheet in January 17 but the Prime Minister’s Office has still not authorized the expense, attorney Achva Berman of the prosecutor’s office told the Jerusalem District Court.

After the prosecution submitted the expense report, its representatives argued that the petition was no longer necessary and asked the Jerusalem District Court to dismiss it. Ben-Meir and the court have yet to respond.

Among the amazing line items in the table: removal of furnishings from the hotel rooms, apparently to meet the needs of the guests, cost Israel almost $20,000 – $3,500 for removal and about $16,000 for “storage of the removed furniture.” Yedioth Ahronoth, which the Netanyahus apparently read voraciously, cost $60.60. The couple’s meals cost $1,860. Laundry for the couple – an additional $210. Another item – “special cleaning” was listed as costing $6,900, but an erasure in the document makes it unclear whether the hotel charged for it in the end.

The prosecutor’s office redacted “a few items on the table, for security reasons and to protect the privacy of the employees” who traveled with Netanyahu’s entourage. Among these are a cash withdrawal of $3,000. It “goes without saying,” prosecutors wrote, “this is not the premier’s.”

The table does not break down Sara Netanyahu’s expenses. Under makeup and hairstyling, only the prime minister is mentioned. The wine, which according to the Naftali and Eliyahu cases and the admission of Sara Netanyahu, is consumed regularly, was noted as purchased for the premier.

Ben-Meir encountered obstacles and excuses in his efforts to obtain the documents – a death in the family; checking things “vis-à-vis officials”; calling on the authority of Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold, who, it will be recalled, owes his appointment to Netanyahu, for another extension.

Today, seven-and-a-half months after the visit, the prosecution concluded that: “the process of collecting the information and receiving the required authorization to publish it has been completed and it can be handed over to the petitioner.”

Ben-Meir said on Tuesday night that the information he received proves that claims regarding Israel’s high cost of living in Israel are unfair. “New York is much more expensive,” he said. “Five days there cost 600,000 shekels.”

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