Oh, how times — and airline sleeping habits for senior elected Israeli officials — have changed.
Amid Israel’s economic crisis, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come in for immense criticism after it was revealed last week he spent $127,000 (over 450,000 shekels) of taxpayers’ money having an El Al plane fitted out 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.
Critics remarked upon the dramatic contrast between that requirement and the behavior of one of his Likud prime ministerial predecessors, Menachem Begin. A photograph of Begin, released on Facebook by legendary photojournalist David Rubinger, showed the first Likud prime minister sleeping on the 12-hour flight to the United States, half-sitting on ordinary seats in what looked like a highly uncomfortable position.
But even Begin, it would appear, was a veritable airline dilettante compared to his immediate successor, the late Yitzhak Shamir. Back in 1979, when he was Speaker of the Knesset, Shamir slept on the floor of his plane en route to an official visit to Australia, Channel 2 TV pundit Nehemia Shtrasler reported on Friday night.
Shamir was seated in the ordinary economy rows of what in those days was a multi-leg, 38-hour flight — the route complicated and extended by various security concerns — and found himself in the same row as then MK Adi Amorai, with a couple of free seats alongside them. Shamir proposed to Amorai that he, Shamir, stretch out on the seats on the first night of their protracted journey while Amorai sleep on the floor, and that they switch places the next night.
The first night went as planned, but on the second night Amorai told Shamir he couldn’t allow the Knesset Speaker, who was also some years older than him, to undergo the indignity of sleeping on the floor while he luxuriated, relatively speaking, on the seats. Nonsense, Shamir retorted. “A deal is a deal.”
And so it was, Shtrasler reported, that Yitzhak Shamir, the Speaker of the Knesset who was then aged 63 or 64, spent the night en route to official functions in Australia sleeping below Amorai on the floor of the plane.
Underlining the contrast, the Shamir story emerged days after news broke not only of Netanyahu’s double-bed demand, but also that the Netanyahu household spending has nearly doubled since 2009, growing by 80 percent to some NIS 5.4 million ($1.5m.) in 2012.
Social protests, called to oppose the state budget in general, and Netanyahu’s spending in particular, were planned Saturday night for several locales nationwide, including outside Netanyahu’s homes in Jerusalem and Caesaria.