A Haaretz poll published Monday found that if elections in Israel were held this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party would beat the Labor camp by two seats, winning 25 seats, while the Tzipi-Bougie camp would lag behind with 23 seats, ultimately enabling Netanyahu to be re-elected as Israel’s Prime Minister for the fourth time. This poll comes as a surprise, not only because of earlier polls suggesting the joint Tzipi Livni-Isaac “Bougie” Herzog party could win, but because of the most recent scandal to rock the Prime Minister’s bid for a fourth term in office (which would make him the only Prime Minister to hold power for that long since David Ben-Gurion).
It’s being called bottlegate. And it’s Bibi’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, who’s at the heart of the story.
According to the allegations, first published by Haaretz, Netanyahu returned used plastic bottles purchased by the Prime Minister’s residence for cash receipts, pocketing thousands of shekels over the course of the past six-years years in what ultimately are considered state funds. The initial allegations, which were made nearly two years ago, stated that Netanyahu refunded the treasury 4,000 NIS over four years—an insufficient amount.
A former employee of the Prime Minister’s residence says that this sum was less than what had been received. Meni Naftali, who was Sara Netanyahu’s former bodyguard, claimed that the real figure was about 250 NIS every other week, which would amount to 6,000 shekels a year. Naftali said that residence employees were required to return the bottles to supermarkets in Jerusalem and pass the funds back to Sara Netanyahu directly. Naftali also alleged that Netanyahu witnessed Sara’s frequent demands and that he had to have been aware that the money from the deposits was being given to her and not to the state treasury. Channel 2 reported that the household purchased 100,000 NIS worth of alcohol beverages over the course of two years.
Nir Hefetz, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister and his wife, said, “Mrs Netanyahu decided to return the money on her own initiative without being required to do so,” and that the allegations are “a political story, spun by the left in order to bring down the Prime Minister.” His comments came in response to the left-wing Meretz party’s Zehava Gal-on’s demand that the Attorney General open an investigation into the allegations. “It’s not her—it’s him,” she said.
Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is expected to order the Israeli Police to open an examination or criminal investigation into the scandal. Weinstein’s office said on Saturday that it planned to publish a report on alleged spending by the Prime Minister’s residence. State Comptroller, Joseph Shapira said he would announce his findings by Feb. 17.
Netanyahu issued a response to the controversy, saying this was “a recycled story, old and inflated.” He added, “within the Israeli media, there are sources that believe in recycling, but not of bottles, but rather in the illegitimate method of attacking me by smearing my wife’s name with the intention of unseating the Likud party with me as its leader.”
Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni also responded to the scandal. In a Facebook post, Herzog called on the Prime Minister to “stop blaming others for your failures. Stop throwing the blame on the media and hiding behind bottles. You- Bibi- are responsible for everything that has happened in the past six years.” Herzog went on to blame Netanyahu for the difficult economic situation, security issues and Israel’s declining international standing.” Tzipi Livni said, “the alcohol purchased by Netanyahu in a month is the minimum salary of millions of Israeli residents.”
The Haaretz poll forecasting Bibi would win an election today also comes as Netanyahu suffers criticism at home and abroad for accepting Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress just weeks before the March elections in Israel.