Prime Minister Naftali Bennett this week disclosed for the first time the operating expenses for his official residence, after journalist Ayala Hasson revealed them in a report on Channel 13 television.
The numbers show a sharp drop in spending in comparison with his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, whose household expenses included the official prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem and his private home in Caesarea. Bennett’s expenses, which include maintenance and cleaning, household staff salaries and family meals (though not food costs for private guests), ran to 87,700 shekels ($26,620) a month, versus 280,000 shekels under Netanyahu.
The hedonism and waste of public funds on the Netanyahu family’s private expenses during his premiership made the issue a hot potato for the politicians who follow him. After all, one of the tenets of Bibi-ism is that Netanyahu is allowed everything, that everything is forgiven, and that if someone says otherwise, we will show that he is no better.
So Bennett did well by revealing his household spending. But there’s no certainty it will help him against the campaign to blacken his name. Bennett’s entry into this minefield was his own doing. It began with the serious mistake of not moving his family into the official Balfour Street residence and choosing to continue living in his private home in Ra’anana. While Balfour was in need of renovations for security reasons, Bennett should have insisted on living there anyhow, both because it symbolized the change in leadership and to draw a clear line regarding the improper mixing of public and private spending.
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From the moment Bennett chose to live in his private home, he allowed Netanyahu and his supporters to portray him as a hedonist who was “renovating” his private home at the taxpayers’ expense – even though this was not the case, and the renovations were for the sake of security and to upgrade his private workspace to handle encrypted communications.
Nevertheless, the spending report shows that even if Bennett’s household bills are much more modest than Netanyahu’s, his monthly bill remains very high. Such spending can’t help but leave the average Israeli feeling put out. Ordinary people cover their own household cleaning and maintenance costs and order takeout from restaurants at their own expense. Why should the prime minister and his household eat meals at the expense of the state?
The discomfort stems from something else: The public doesn’t really need to know what kind of food the prime minister and his household eat, only that they, the taxpayers, are the ones footing the bill. Therefore, Bennett should stop using public money to pay for restaurant meals ordered in. The prime minister certainly has enough money of his own to pay for meals like this. Because he stands at the head of a “change” government, it’s only right that he set standards of modesty so that those who come after him will feel they need to adopt them, too, rather than settling for the model of “Bibi-minus.”
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.