The Gutter Press' Exalted Probe Into the Netanyahus' Spending

The Netanyahus' lawyer has accused Haaretz of gutter journalism. Well, let's see how the complaints by Netanyahu employees play out in court.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his wife Sara leaving Tel Aviv on their way to Washington D.C., March 1, 2015.Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom / GPO

Joachim Sauer is Angela Merkel’s Sara Netanyahu, in title alone. For the most part, Sauer doesn’t accompany his spouse on trips, and when he does travel with her, he takes a commercial flight at his own expense. A wild guess: He also doesn’t butt heads with the employees at the chancellor’s residence and doesn’t demand that they bid him good night at the end of a shift.

The interesting life at the Netanyahu residences, with all the angry tiffs and flowing champagne (only the quantity is in dispute), will be back to titillate spectators this week in the courtroom of Judge Dita Pruginin, president of the regional labor court.

Attorney Nava Pinchuk-Alexander, who with her colleague Neomi Landau is representing a former employee of the prime minister’s residence, Guy Eliyahu, will question Sara Netanyahu. Also due to be grilled is the deputy director of the Prime Minister’s Office, Ezra Saidoff, suspected of illegal activity designed to protect the great asset – her majesty.

A regular person who found himself repeatedly in the spotlight of investigations and lawsuits would probably huddle in a corner and do his best to avoid anything that could tarnish his reputation. But the Netanyahus aren’t regular people. They’re not sensitive when it comes to money. Correction: They’re not sensitive when it comes to other people’s money, the state’s money.

In late September, the two were in New York at the United Nations. Their elder son Yair was there too and had separate accommodations. Then the bills arrived. Some of the expenses were especially bewildering. Would the prime minister really spend, just like that, unnecessarily, an amount equivalent to the monthly rent of a student's apartment? Maybe there was a mistake. Further investigation was needed.

So the spokespeople at the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office were asked: Was a receipt really submitted for covering Yair Netanyahu’s hotel expenses? Was funding provided for a pair of bodyguards during his travels, even though the sons and daughters of previous prime ministers didn’t get bodyguards when abroad?

Who approved this expense? And was a complaint really received from Yair Netanyahu’s hotel about him and his friends smoking in the room, which is against the law?

Also, is it true that Sara had a hairdresser and makeup artist come to the hotel at 8 A.M., but Sara only left her room at noon, so hundreds more dollars had to be paid for the time the two workers were made to wait? Was a special tailor summoned for the prime minister, at a cost of many hundreds of dollars, to fix a hem, but when the tailor arrived, Netanyahu changed his mind and said he’d wear a different suit?

The Foreign Ministry, whose accountant – a Finance Ministry employee – is supposed to pay for all this out of the coffers Defender of the Poor Moshe Kahlon, declined to answer. He referred all questions on expenses to the Prime Minister’s Office. The civil servants there were all silent, but a response was forthcoming from the Netanyahus’ private attorney, Yossi Cohen.

“On behalf of my client, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, allow me to reply to your questions on the matter,” wrote Cohen. “The ‘reports’ described in your inquiry on the matter are merely a continuation of the campaign of harassment and slander that Haaretz, for unwarranted and unacceptable reasons, has been waging against my client, his wife and his family. This gutter journalism isn’t worthy of a response.”

Who knows if Cohen’s last remark was really approved by his client? Maybe the mufti is to blame.

But there’s apparently a solid basis for Netanyahu’s haughtiness. Not one minister in his government dares to publicly criticize him on this (worth bearing in mind when they contend for the crown). And the opposition is a lukewarm joke and every agency that’s supposed to provide checks and balances – the police, the state comptroller, the state prosecutor and the attorney general – kneel before him.

How did Cohen put it? They’re all right there in the gutter.

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