The behavior of a senior public official’s spouse is usually the personal business of those concerned, and their privacy ought to be respected. But this rule should and even must be violated when the behavior in question affects the functioning of a public servant and reflects problematic norms of behavior, and all the more so when it raises suspicion of criminal activity.
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The behavior of the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, with regard to redeeming deposits on recycled bottles – as reported on Thursday by Amir Oren in Haaretz – should not be dismissed as a trifle.
The Prime Minister’s Office admitted that “the Netanyahu family” gave the state a personal check for 4,000 shekels ($1,019) to cover the bottle deposits from 2009 to 2013. If the term “family” includes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then that means he, too, was a party to this prima facie crime.
The admission made by the Prime Minister’s Office partially confirms the claims of Meni Naftali, the former housekeeper of the prime minister’s official residence, regarding Sara Netanyahu’s behavior. Naftali said she had ordered him and other employees to do things that have no business happening in an official residence. The office’s admission alone is enough to justify opening a criminal investigation to determine the real amount transferred from the state’s coffers into the Netanyahus’ pockets – which, according to Naftali’s testimony, may be six times higher than the amount they repaid.
The behavior of senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office, who apparently worked to obscure and conceal the bottle deposit affair, should be examined as well. These officials also contributed to getting the case settled without the involvement of law enforcement agencies, in a manner inappropriate to a democratic country governed by the rule of law. These officials owe their loyalty to the state, the law and the public, not to an incumbent politician or his family.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has served throughout his term as the bottleneck preventing investigations into problematic aspects of Netanyahu’s conduct. He must cease this behavior and be loyal to the public that he is supposed to serve, not to the interests of the prime minister who appointed him.