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Israelis' Hypocrisy on Bennett's Household Expenses

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, his wife Gilat and their children at the Knesset in June.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, his wife Gilat and their children at the Knesset in June.Credit: Ariel Zandberg
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

If the “Anyone But Bibi” camp had any integrity, Ra’anana would have been filled with demonstrators this week; the drums would have thundered on every bridge, the whistles would have screeched at every major intersection. This is the camp that wrapped itself in the aura of fighting corruption and lavish lifestyle at public expense. But apparently that doesn’t really interest this fighting camp very much. Only Benjamin Netanyahu interests them, nothing else.

Yes, Naftali Bennett spent less than Netanyahu. Suddenly that has become a principled, even moral explanation. A driver is caught speeding at 120 kilometers per hour and he points out another driver who was doing 140 kilometers per hour – that is what Bennett did this week in response to Ayala Hasson’s investigative report on Channel 13. Of course, this is not an acceptable argument, but it becomes even more infuriating when the driver who was stopped also happens to be the director of the Road Safety Authority. Bennett, who was borne aloft on the wings of the “Anyone But Bibi” faithful, was only elected to his position due to the unifying and unadulterated hatred of Netanyahu, a movement whose slogans were all about ousting “the corrupt one.” They came to change things.

On Tuesday, Bennett very belatedly admitted his mistake: “From now on, all of my family’s food expenses will be paid from my personal account,” he wrote. This should have started happening on the day he was sworn in, or at least an hour after Hasson’s report came out. It’s okay for a prime minister to spend his own money sometimes; but evidently power is blinding and intoxicating, and spreads like a contagion from one prime minister to the next. For Shimon Peres, the party bought Kent cigarettes, which he smoked in large quantities – at the time, this was seen as totally acceptable and natural; the Bennett family got hamburgers instead.

But much more important and troubling was the public’s and the media’s response to Hasson’s report: ranging from complete indifference and deafening silence to mean-spirited scorn for the reporter and the casting of self-righteous doubts on the credibility of a report “with no evidence” – until the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed all the information in the report and the press had to go along with it. This is what sometimes passes for Israeli journalism.

The coddling of anyone who is not Netanyahu is nothing new, but this time it was revealed in its full disgrace. For the anti-Bibi camp and most of the media, Bennett could order Persian caviar for his whole family on a daily basis at taxpayer expense, and also kill Palestinians, and it would be okay – just as long as we don’t get Netanyahu back.

It’s a relatively trivial matter. In a state that spends a fortune on settlement madness and submarines, and millions on needlessly showy security arrangements for its prime minister, the budget for meals in the prime minister’s home is not a fateful matter. It’s one of those annoying things that the media and Israelis like to get worked up about, but basically are distractions from the truly wasteful, scandalous things.

The outlandish security reinforcement of the house of the man who – with a little luck – will be the interior minister in 16 months is also uncalled for, as is his insistence on not fulfilling all of his duties from Jerusalem. The American ambassador has to live in Jerusalem and do his job there, as tough as that can be, but our prime minister gets an exemption. The media loves to dwell on these sorts of little things, but when it does, it does so with a double standard – one for Netanyahu and another for all the rest. Pizza for the Bennetts is not the same as pizza for the Netanyahus.

We now have the government of change and healing, the government of light after the years of darkness. A sigh of relief was heard throughout the land when it came into being. Right from the start it made clear it will not lift a finger about what is the most fateful matter for Israel, the occupation. The only consolation was that at least the extravagant lifestyle of the government and its leader would change. It was small consolation, and now even that is cause for disillusionment. But no matter – just as long as Netanyahu doesn’t return.

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