Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is up for re-election in March and is facing harsh criticism over his upcoming speech to Congress, found himself in the midst of yet another scandal this week. Israel’s State Comptroller released a scathing report Tuesday with the findings of a much-anticipated probe into the Netanyahu family’s spending between 2010 to 2012. The report found that the spending at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem as well as the family’s home in Caesarea was disproportionately excessive.
Shapira also announced he suspected foul play regarding the so-called Bottlegate scandal, as well as controversial allegations that the Netanyahu family purchased furniture for their private home in Caesarea with state funds intended for use at the official residence in Jerusalem.
Comptroller Yosef Shapira’s report revealed that living and hospitality expenses at the official residence in Jerusalem in 2011 amounted to almost half a million NIS (over $120,000), more than twice the amount in 2009 when Netanyahu was re-elected. The family’s catering bill totaled $23,000. The report also found that one of the cleaners in the residence was also a cook, yet that over the course of two years meals amounting to 165,000 NIS (roughly $42,000) were ordered to the residence, which Shapiro called “improper.”
According to Shapira, “the way in which the budget of the Prime Minister’s Residence was managed during the years 2009-2012 does not comply with the basic principles of money management, saving, and efficiency and is likely to result in a waste of public funds.”
The worst of the findings focus on the family’s electrician, Avi Pachima, a Likud member who is closely associated with the Netanyahu family. The report found that Sarah Netanyahu had commissioned Pachima to perform various jobs in their private home in Caesarea during the weekend hours, when the rate is higher, including on Yom Kippur. In 2009, Netanyahu received 50,000 NIS (roughly $13,000) in public funds to pay for Pachima’s his work on his home in Caesarea. Shapira also maintained that cleaning costs in both the Ceasaria home and the official residence in Jerusalem amounted to “excessive spending.” with the state spending more than 75,000 NIS monthly (almost $20,000) to clean the homes.
The Likud party shared an infographic on Facebook in response to the report, which they called misleading. They argued that since the report doesn’t compare the official residence with private homes in Israel, there is no point of comparison to let the public to judge what is excessive. “It is important to highlight that the spending by the Prime Minister’s residence significantly decreased in the last two years. The spending drastically increased at a specific time when the residence was run by Meni Naftali – a disgruntled employee who is leading a campaign of slander and defamation against Prime Minister….. The spending was significantly lower after Naftali left his position.”
In response to the report, Isaac Herzog, Netanyahu’s biggest rival and leader of the new joint Zionist party, said: “Netanyahu must personally explain to the public the allegations raised in the comptroller report. This is a serious report. I trust the gatekeepers authorities to handle and deal with it. The only thing I wonder about is that at such a time the prime minister didn’t feel the need to face the public and personally deal with the difficult claims in State Comptroller’s report on the conduct and excessive expenditures of public funds.”
In anticipation of the report’s findings, Sara Netanyahu hosted Israeli designer Moshik Galmin for a tour of the official residence in Jerusalem. In the 15-minute video uploaded to Facebook, the designer comments on the poor conditions and lack of maintenance of nearly every room in the Prime Minister’s residence, with the camera focusing on peeling wall paint, rugs that are ripping apart, and old furniture. The video’s message is that the home is not fit to host heads of state or world leaders, though the Comptroller’s report presents a different picture.
Tal Trachtman Alroy is an intern at Tablet.