The Knesset Finance Committee is set to vote Thursday on a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allocate state funding that will cover housing costs at two private residences of the Netanyahu family and increase funds for expenses such as clothing, travel abroad for the premier’s wife Sara, for conferences and other state events, staff hiring, and hospitality costs.
The request pertains to Netanyahu’s private residence in Jerusalem’s Gaza Street and the family’s private home in the affluent coastal town of Caesarea, and cites the fact that the premier’s official residence in the capital’s Balfour Street is still undergoing renovations.
The Gaza street residence is located in a residential neighborhood of central Jerusalem and is not adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Office, which is in the government quarter near the city’s Western entrance.
Netanyahu is asking the committee to recognize the family’s private residence on Gaza Street as the premier’s official residence while the renovations at Balfour Street and security updates continue (the process is expected to take at least two more years, according to the Prime Minister’s Office).
During a debate on Wednesday in the committee, the Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Yossi Sheli argued that the state was required to provide the prime minister with an official residence and that the Netanyahus’ decision to reside at the home on Gaza Street would cost the state just as much as any other alternative residence designated as official.
Sheli said the request asks that the state fund expenses at both residences through 2026 amid “the working assumption that by then there will be a new residence [at Balfour Street], and we will return to the normal procedure.”
Another PMO official cited existing legislation from 1982 that says the state must bankroll a prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem and an alternative residence for the head of state’s family outside the capital, and explained that the request [in Hebrew] asks the committee to consider the Netanyahus’ private residence on Gaza Street in Jerusalem as the official residence while also maintaining the home in Caesaria.
According to a Channel 12 report on Wednesday, PMO officials could not provide an estimated amount for the annual costs. The same report said the PMO asked Likud lawmakers and MKs from parties in the governing coalition to attend the committee discussion in a show of support for the prime minister’s requests.
When some committee members from opposition parties voiced their objections, they were shot down by coalition members who pointed out that the state had to convert former prime minister Naftali Bennett’s private home in Ra’anana into an official residence, to the tune of an estimated NIS 45 million ($12 million).
“Hypocrites! Where were you during the tenure of Naftali Bennett?” said Likud lawmaker Hanoch Milwidsky.
Orit Farkash-Hacohen (National Unity), who served as the minister of science, technology and innovation in the Bennett-Lapid government, accused Netanyahu of trying to bypass established processes for financing through the legal adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office. “When I was a minister, I also wanted financing for everything, but I had to go through [the ministry’s] accountant, director-general and legal adviser. It’s unbelievable.”
Israelis are “battling debts and you are busy filling [Netanyahu’s] pockets as if he lacks anything, poor thing,” said Yesh Atid MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, the former education minister.
Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) adjourned the session on Wednesday afternoon and said the committee will “take a break” and “announce the continuation of the meeting and the vote.” The voting was set for Thursday at 11:00 a.m.
According to Channel 12, the state is being asked to finance a clothing budget for Netanyahu and members of his household for between NIS 45,000-80,000 per year ($12,000-22,000), cover travel costs for Sara Netanyahu, and allow the family to hire two more staff members — for a total of four — for their official residence. The family is also asking that the state cover hospitality costs for all members of the household, for an as-yet-unknown amount.
The PMO said there was a “fake news” campaign surrounding the “so-called demands” which, it argued, pale “compared to the NIS 50 million that Bennett spent on renovating his private house in Ra’anana” and Lapid’s and Bennett’s “failure” to finalize “the official residence at Balfour as a prime minister’s residence.”
The Balfour residence has been undergoing long-overdue renovations and security updates since Netanyahu moved out in July 2021 after leaving office.
Due to the ongoing work at the official residence, Bennett spent most of his time in office living at his Ra’anana home — to the consternation of his neighbors there — while Lapid stayed in a small apartment within the prime ministerial compound.
Earlier this month, the Haaretz daily reported that the Prime Minister’s Office estimated the ongoing renovations at the Balfour residence will cost between NIS 80 and 100 million ($25-30 million) and may take years more to complete.