Amid criticism of state funding at his home, Bennett says will pay for own food

PM stresses he has only acted according to procedures but is aware of public sentiment; opposition Likud party pans move, points at millions spent on refurbishments

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends the Jewish Moroccan celebration of Mimouna, in Moshav Shilat, April 23, 2022. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends the Jewish Moroccan celebration of Mimouna, in Moshav Shilat, April 23, 2022. (Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday he will pay from his own pocket to cover the cost of feeding his family, rather than continue to use a state allowance.

“I have always believed that listening to criticism is not humiliating. On the contrary, it is a privilege,” Bennett said in a statement.

While noting that he has so far acted according to protocol and that he did not become prime minister “for the money or the honor,” Bennett said, “I am aware of the public sentiment this has elicited.”

He said he notified staff at the Prime Minister’s Office that he will personally pay for all expenditures on food for his family.

The move came after a recent television report on expenses at Bennett’s private Ra’anana home, which the prime minister had countered by saying his expenditure was far less than that of his predecessor, opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the report, Bennett has been ordering food deliveries to his home, rather than employing an in-house cook.

Netanyahu’s Likud party scorned Bennett’s announcement that he will pay his way and said the prime minister is “throwing sand in the public’s eyes” because of the high cost of ongoing renovation at his private home, where he has chosen to live, rather than use the official residence in Jerusalem.

“He must reimburse Israeli citizens for the NIS 50 million (some $15 million) he illegally wasted at their expense on renovations for his private home in Ra’anana,” the party said in a statement.

In a contentious decision, Bennett has continued to live exclusively in his private home in Ra’anana, rather than move to the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood. Bennett initially defended this move as being for the benefit of his children, who were able to continue to attend their schools in Ra’anana and maintain a more normal routine, rather than uprooting them to a new city. He has continued to justify the move as necessary, in order to allow the Shin Bet security service to make renovations to the Jerusalem residence.

Converting Bennett’s private home into a temporary official residence has reportedly cost some NIS 50 million and included major security work that has impacted the lives of his neighbors.

The issue of catering at the prime minister’s residence gained public attention in recent years due to a case involving allegations of illegally procured catering services when Netanyahu was in power that saw his wife, Sara Netanyahu, convicted in a 2019 plea deal.

The agreement saw Netanyahu escape a conviction of aggravated fraud, and admit to the lesser charge.

Security around Bennett was increased Tuesday after a letter addressed to the prime minister and his family included death threats and a live bullet.

MK Amichai Chikli at a Knesset House Committee meeting on the Yamina party’s request to declare him a ‘defector,’ on April 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Renegade MK Amichai Chikli, who on Monday was ousted from Bennett’s Yamina party over his consistent opposition to the government, told Radio 103FM on Wednesday that the fuss made over the letter was a symptom of the bias against former prime minister Netanyahu.

“I followed the statements of opinion leaders when there were similar things against Netanyahu and other prime ministers, and it is very difficult to evade the bias we have,” he told the station. “In general, this phenomenon is despicable, wrong and dangerous.”

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