Two months since he was finally forced out of the Prime Minister’s Office, a huge gap has emerged between the imaginary Benjamin Netanyahu and the real one. The imaginary one exists in a virtual reality that he created for himself and foisted on his party.
It exists on a virtual spectrum of social media, the private media created to serve the Netanyahu family and the most slavish of the mainstream media. In this universe, Netanyahu is still the father of the nation, a giant among munchkins who will soon be returning to power. There’s something comical about his efforts to cultivate this misrepresentation, especially when he hits the brick wall of reality.
Thus, for example, he hurried to congratulate Olympic gold medalist Linoy Ashram before Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog could – by phoning her on Shabbat and drawing criticism from his ultra-Orthodox and nationalist-ultra-Orthodox partners. Likewise, Netanyahu’s lobbying for Pfizer received a cold shoulder from the medical establishment.
For Likud candidates, he’s certified bad luck, whether regarding the Judicial Appointments Committee last week or the municipal elections in Eilat the week before.
Netanyahu’s lifestyle is already a matter of pathological research. According to my notes, he has been staying at hotels for the last four weekends – twice in Netanya, once at Lake Kinneret and last week in the presidential suite of the Dan Carmel in Haifa. The room rate at the latter is 8,800 shekels ($2,740) a night.
I asked his spokesman who’s paying for these luxuries and got back an answer instantly: “The weekend was paid for by the Netanyahus out of their own pocket. Instead of rummaging through the lives of the Netanyahu family, the media should investigate the 23 million shekels spent by the government on the private homes of Bennett in Ra’anana and [Yair] Lapid in Tel Aviv. Not on Netanyahu, yes on renovations!”
Maybe that’s the real legacy of the prime minister who ruled for a combined 15 years: The minute there’s a photo of him at a hotel, everyone wants to know who paid.
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The first to reach the finish line this time was the hard-working Kan 11 reporter Michael Shemesh: The air conditioning at the Netanyahu residence in Caesarea is on the fritz and the state has refused to pick up the tab for repairs. As a result, Netanyahu and his wife have been wandering the country’s hotels, including one in Jerusalem where Netanyahu is entitled to stay at the government’s expense when he’s working at the Knesset.
Note that the couple’s two spacious Jerusalem apartments have undergone extensive renovations over the past year (on the grounds of “security needs” – the Prime Minister’s Office refused at the time to say who bore the costs). Maybe they’re having trouble adjusting to a normal life without cleaning, catering and laundry services.
But the public does bear some of the cost of the hotel stays because each time the couple visits one, two extra rooms for security people have to be rented. Asked about that, the Shin Bet security service said “we don’t comment on security arrangements.”
Shemesh also found that Netanyahu paid only 2,000 shekels a night for the suite, less than a quarter of the regular rate. I asked Dan Carmel’s managers who covered the cost and by what means of payment (after all, Netanyahu is known to forgo a wallet, and criminal investigations found that he doesn’t have a credit card either).
The hotel’s spokesman responded: “Former Prime Minister Netanyahu was hosted by the Dan Carmel and paid his own way. Beyond that, the hotel never discloses information of any kind about a guest like this.” Netanyahu’s spokesman added: “Former Prime Minister Netanyahu didn’t know there was any difference between the official rate for the room he reserved and the rate he was offered. When he became aware of the matter, he immediately ordered that the difference be paid.”
He never knows. Note that he claimed to have paid the bill himself, so whom did he order to make up the difference?
The man lives in a fantasy. He’s a vagabond millionaire who flits from hotel to hotel so he doesn’t have to fix the air conditioner at his villa. He scrambles for discounts and upgrades, and telephones sports and corporate stars, all while the news studios insist on calling him Israel’s eternal leader.