The Flights May Be Pricey, but the Scorn's Free

Six pithy bits of gossip on greed, power, and tasteless spouses.

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1. In retrospect, the prime minister was right in saving 7 million shekels ($1.9 million) by cancelling his flight to South Africa. A hundred past, present and future world leaders decided not to miss the biggest funeral held in the last decade. When the names of the guests were read over the public speaker system, the names of Netanyahu and Peres were included. In response, boos were heard from the audience. This proves that one doesn’t have to spend millions in order to be booed. Bibi’s Israel has now reached a state in which boos can be had for free.

2. When Haaretz started publishing readers’ comments on its website some time ago, I criticized the wife of a senior public office holder for purchasing, at public expense, an expensive fur hat while accompanying her husband on a visit to the United States. She would have done better by putting her husband, whose girth is ever expanding, on a diet.

3. Apropos the first lady: my concerns with regard to her joining her husband on his flights (23 times in four years) are not related to waste. If they had a contract stipulating that he take her everywhere he goes in the world, I’d respect that. What’s annoying about her is the same thing that was disturbing about Paula Ben-Gurion – they both dress(ed) inappropriately for their age and station. The most embarrassing photo of Sara appeared when the two flew to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in London (the same flight in which they inaugurated the Netanyahu bedroom on an El Al jet). On the side of her head there was a small black hat resembling a paratrooper’s beret in a Hanukka pageant. Ben-Gurion was forgiven, but there are many who are gunning for Netanyahu; he won’t be forgiven his wife’s fashion peccadilloes.

4. The topic is becoming trite, yet it remains unresolved: Who pays for the prime minister’s expenses, and what is covered? At the British prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street, there is a clear division. The third floor is the prime minister’s residence and the basement contains the kitchen. The first and second floors include the offices and guest rooms. Refreshments for guests, including hard liquor (and scented candles) are at the state’s expense. But if the prime minister and his wife wish to watch TV while drinking brandy or eating peanuts, they pay for it. There is a permanent staffer at the building whose job is to determine who pays for what. In Israel things are very fuzzy. The prime minister’s wife once told me with undisguised joy: “You won’t believe this, but unlike in the last position, everything here is free!” In other words, at the state’s expense.

5. Have you heard of Poju Zabludowicz? He is a Finnish billionaire, son of a billionaire. Both father and son were, among other things, arms dealers, linked heart and soul to Israel’s defense establishment. Poju had some swanky apartments in London, and Madonna was one of his house guests. Among other properties he had a villa in Caesarea. At one time he told me proudly how he sometimes let Bibi’s family use the villa on weekends. One day I met him in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv. He was downcast. “You won’t believe this, but Bibi keeps asking me to do repairs and renovations!”

6. In the days when a flight from Tel Aviv to Pretoria took 40 hours due to the need to circumvent the continent, I was invited to South Africa. What I saw there was shocking, but the most chilling sentence I heard there was uttered by a senior official I met: “If we had 5 million Afrikaners in the U.S., which is about how many Jews are over there, no power on earth would have made us give up control over here.” Why chilling? Because our current government also believes that as long as Jews have power there, no solution will be reached here.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, in 2013.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

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