A court jester once told a king that an apology can sometimes be worse than the original offense. The king wondered how such a thing was possible, and the jester explained: "Let's say you're going up the stairs. I creep up behind you and suddenly pinch your bottom. You turn around, furious, and I, flustered, apologize, 'Pardon me, Your Majesty, I thought it was the queen.'"
This familiar tale comes to mind when reading the official statement issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late last week regarding his costly ice cream purchases. The statement announced that he would be canceling the budget item instructing the treasury to finance his annual ice cream purchases to the tune of NIS 10,000.
Last year, it turns out, the Prime Minister's Office received special approval to allocate NIS 10,000 from the maintenance budget of the prime minister's residence to buy ice cream in two flavors - vanilla sorbet and pistachio. Originally this expenditure wasn't included in the Netanyahu family's maintenance budget, but his aides managed to bypass the bureaucratic procedures - transferring one budget item to another normally requires a tender - and get the go-ahead to buy his favorite ice cream flavors from a neighborhood ice cream parlor.
Netanyahu had been enjoying this special arrangement in recent months until journalists put a stop to it. When the fourth estate wondered why the public should finance the prime minister's cravings, Netanyahu's office announced that he had decided to cancel the arrangement because "the sum was exorbitant and unacceptable to him."
How odd. When did the sum become "exorbitant"? The prime minister himself - or someone acting on his behalf - reached the arrangement with the ice cream parlor and even agreed to a special contract, because "it's the only establishment that caters precisely to the prime minister's tastes."
And how did the prime minister come to decide on February 14, 2013, that the sum was "unacceptable to him," when it was not only acceptable but even imperative in the months leading up to the statement?
There is another instructive paragraph in the statement issued by Netanyahu's office. It states that the contract with the ice cream parlor was "only a framework contract for hosting guests at the prime minister's official residence; it doesn't mean the entire sum will be used in practice."
In other words, this desirable ice cream parlor wasn't necessarily catering to Netanyahu's own personal tastes, but rather providing sweet treats to his guests. Well, if Netanyahu not only knows who'll be visiting him in the coming year, but also that their favorite flavors also happen to be vanilla sorbet and pistachio, then what do we need the Shin Bet and the Mossad for?
Just like the construction workers in Naomi Shemer's famous song, we're dealing with a prime minister who is set in his ways. He and the people around him create situations in which a great deal of public money is used for lugging his private equipment around. They keep meticulous records of all personal gifts he receives while he's in office, only to sweep them all up at the end of his tenure.
They get into confrontations with personal service providers over costs. They show indifference to the poor demonstrating near his residence. And when they're criticized, his wife tries to hand out pizzas to them.
They haggle over the size of the budget allocation for maintaining his Caesarea villa. They take advantage of his official travels abroad to satisfy their hedonistic appetites.
And then, they stick the public with the bill.
For Netanyahu, the public arena is a hunting ground for him to roam and from which to extract maximal personal gain. When he's caught red-handed, as he was with his ice cream bill, he invents excuses, traps himself with contradictions (if the ice cream was meant for official guests, why was the contract canceled? ) and reacts with hysteria (the smoking cigar he tried to hide in his jacket pocket ).
That's who he is. His private assets have been estimated at NIS 40 million, yet he continues to exploit the public coffers to satisfy his ice cream cravings. He has served as prime minister longer than any of his predecessors, yet still feels deprived, persecuted and eager to grab as many goodies for himself and his family as possible (like naming streets for his father and father-in-law ).
His conduct shows that he believes man is born into a hostile world where he must be on guard at all times, lest others conspire to steal what is rightly his. This is Netanyahu's own personal mindset, but he applies it to the public arena as well: He believes the public owes him compensation for his sacrifices and must shower him with extraordinary luxuries.
This is the worldview of a miserly, suspicious, anxious man who has no capacity for generosity or inner peace. A home life led with constant vigilance against anyone who might seek to conspire against him or deprive him of what he deserves, a home life marked by unceasing efforts to gain recognition and honor - such a life necessarily fosters a small-minded, provincial outlook that cannot help but seep into the public sphere and come to the public's attention. Netanyahu is hardly the pride and glory of Israel's citizens.