Netanyahu, Why Don't You Have a Credit Card?

You, who were Israel’s finance minister at the time, got an aide to pay for personal expenses and you paid him back. No wonder the state comptroller is investigating.

Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. Credit: Kobi Gideon / Government Press Office
Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher

Mr. Prime Minister, how is it possible that during your tenure as finance minister you didn’t have a credit card? The state comptroller’s report on the financing of your trips abroad as finance minister says that your chief of staff in 2005, Yechiel Leiter, paid with his credit card for airline tickets for your sons – a total of $2,800.

In response you said Leiter used his card “because Mr. Netanyahu has no credit card” and that you reimbursed Leiter. Leiter told the Ynet news site that “at the time he really didn’t have a credit card; after all, some authors still use typewriters and won’t move to a laptop. Netanyahu doesn’t understand credit cards and he can’t be blamed for it.”

This is extremely intriguing, even assuming there’s no suspicion of criminality: a man as wealthy as you serving as finance minister but for some reason not having a credit card. That’s a pretty rare spectacle, if not totally unique, even in 2005.

One may wonder what your motives were. Well, there is a theory that for the sake of economizing, households shouldn’t use credit cards.

Maybe you and your wife Sara adhere to that theory. Maybe you prefer to pay in cash to actually feel the money leaving your hands, after being burned by using a credit card that encourages waste, generates interest-carrying debt and leads to an overdraft at the bank.

But the likelihood of this being the explanation is pretty slim. Unfortunately, according to Leiter, who knew you well in those days, your shunning of credit cards didn’t stem from a bad experience. Instead, you wanted to keep a distance from them, maybe for ideological reasons.

In the interview, Leiter sounded sympathetic to you and didn’t appear he wanted to make you look bad. So he said cash for you is like a typewriter for Woody Allen. Hence we may conclude that not only were you never burned by using a credit card, but that up to 2005 you never had a credit card.

It should be noted that even families that favor cash hold a credit card for occasional expenses like airline tickets. But in the Netanyahu family an airline ticket is a routine expense, and it’s immeasurably more convenient to pay by credit than cash.

There’s no choice but to assume that your wife Sara didn’t have a credit card either. Otherwise she would have bought the flight tickets for the boys. That’s much more convenient than asking your chief of staff to do it and then pay him back 12,500 shekels ($3,250) in cash.

From this tidy sum, as from the additional information about your finances, we may infer, with the requisite caution, that in those days you didn’t have to scrimp and save. We may infer that refraining from paying on credit did not derive from a desire to cut costs like that part of society where people have no credit cards. After all, those people can’t borrow from the financial system – they’re paupers.

Hence, and in the hope that we aren’t suspected of irresponsibility, let’s assume that we may ignore that aspect of the issue without tainting the seriousness of our inquiry.

So, the more thoroughly we examine it, the deeper the mystery becomes. Bibi, why didn’t you have a credit card?

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