Amid rising public discontent over imminent austerity measures designed to rein in the budget deficit, and with additional grievances over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s perceived irresponsible spending, an estimated 1,500 protesters took to the streets in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Caesarea on Saturday night.
In the capital, several hundred demonstrators marched on the Prime Minister’s Residence and called on Netanyahu to “take from [personal] wealth, not from the masses.” They held signs proclaiming “Bibi is bad for us all.”
A second protest in the seaside town of Caesarea, comprised of a few dozen people, took place outside the prime minster’s private villa there.
Close to a thousand demonstrators took to Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv and shouted “one justice for everyone.” They marched in the streets of the city in opposition to the proposed national budget, and stood for a moment of silence in memory of Moshe Silman, who set himself alight at a mass socio-economic protest in Tel Aviv last year because of his dire financial circumstances.
Organizers of the Tel Aviv protest wrote on the event’s Facebook page that “we’re sick of hearing about luxury beds on the prime minister’s plane. We’re sick of hearing promises to turn off the tap. We’re sick of them lying to our faces. We’re sick of them taking from children before taking from tycoons.”
After more than a week or revelations concerning high-spending at the public’s expense by Netanyahu, a survey conducted by Shiluv Millward Brown for Channel 2 and published Saturday night found that 44 percent of respondents considered Netanyahu’s performance as prime minister “bad or very bad,” 35% answered moderate, and 21% answered that his performance was good.
The station noted that this marked a “sharp drop” in the polls compared to previous public opinion surveys conducted during July and August of last year.
The state revealed last week that Netanyahu’s household spending nearly doubled since 2009, growing by 80% to some NIS 5.4 million ($1.5m) in 2012. The new information came amid scathing public criticism leveled at Netanyahu after it came to light that he had spent $127,000 (over 450,000 shekels) of the taxpayers’ money having an El Al plane outfitted with a double bed in an enclosed bedroom for his five-hour flight to London last month to attend the funeral of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
Netanyahu’s personal attorneys and supporters rushed to his defense at the weekend. Attorney David Shimron, Netanyahu’s friend and legal counsel, told Channel 10 that “the prime minister is tightening [his] belt,” citing Netanyahu’s self-imposed 15% cut to official expenditures earlier this year.
Attorney Yossi Cohen, another Netanyahu defender, told Channel 2 that “the Netanyahu couple are not living a showy lifestyle.”
“Come to the prime minister’s house,” Cohen said. “See the modesty and the rust.”
He explained the 80% increase in Netanyahu’s official expenses as stemming primarily from the requirements of the position. “It’s the most difficult job in the world. This house always plays host to heads of the Mossad and security agencies, ministers, presidents and prime ministers,” he said. “The workers also eat on the residence’s bill.”
Both men touted Netanyahu’s hard work as part of the resultant cost, citing the prime minister’s tendency to work until 12 at night or later.
The Netanyahu residence’s spending on food and official hospitality jumped 117% to some NIS 480,000 ($133,000) during Netanyahu’s previous term in office (2009-2012), while cleaning expenses grew by 118% to NIS 1.2 million ($332,000). While most of the money went toward the upkeep of Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, in 2012 some NIS 318,000 ($88,000) in public funds were spent on Netanyahu’s personal villa in Caesarea.
Saturday night’s demonstrations were also aimed at the state budget, which was approved by the cabinet last week, and is now making its way through the Knesset. Critics say it exacerbates the burden on working-class and middle-class Israelis. Last Saturday night saw several thousand protest against the budget in Tel Aviv and smaller protests in other cities.