Netanyahu claims media has been hounding wife Sara for 20 years

PM hits back at leaks from investigation that led to her indictment for misuse of $100,000 in state funds to buy gourmet food

Raoul Wootliff is the producer and occasional host of the Times of Israel Daily Briefing podcast.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Cyber Week conference at Tel Aviv University on June 20, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Cyber Week conference at Tel Aviv University on June 20, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In a fresh broadside against the media, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back Monday at reports detailing leaks from police investigations into his wife’s conduct at the official residence, saying that she has been “trampled on by the media for 20 years.”

Speaking to Likud supporters at the party’s faction meeting at the Knesset, the prime minister thanked them “for all the support, not just for me, but for my wife.”

“She is going through a hard time now with constant attacks from the media. Not just now but for 20 years the media have trampled on her,” he said to applause from the party activists.

Sara Netanyahu was indicted last week along with Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, on charges of fraud and breach of trust. The two are accused of fraudulently charging some NIS 359,000 ($100,000) for gourmet meals to the state between 2010 and 2013.

Her trial will begin on July 19.

Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on January 22, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Recent days have seen several reports of testimony she gave police during the investigation, including transcripts of her criticizing staff and complaining that she and her husband have to eat schnitzel every night.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said the media is focusing on “rubbish” rather than the “incredible work she does for the people of this country every day.”

“She does so much, helping lone soldiers, bereaved families, and Holocaust survivors,” he said, “so different from the person that the media is trying to portray.”

In a possible jab at critics who have demanded that Netanyahu himself step down amid his wife’s legal troubles, he said that support from the public “doesn’t just support us, it encourages us to continue for many years to come.”

Sara Netanyahu has repeatedly denied the allegations that led to her indictment for misappropriation of over $100,000 in state funds to buy gourmet food, calling the witnesses against her “liars.”

The steady leaks of transcripts from her testimony continued Sunday, with media quoting her as telling police that one of the people leveling accusations against her was “a shitty cook.”

According to transcripts of her testimony to police broadcast by Channel 10 news, she told investigators that the probe was “a disgrace,” and that all the investigators are interested in is “what the prime minister ate.”

The transcripts added to those published Friday, in which she claimed that she was running an “austerity regime.”

When presented with testimony of witnesses, Netanyahu’s response to almost every question was, “That is a lie.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and his wife Sara Netanyahu host a dinner for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie, at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on May 2, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The investigator told her that witnesses had told police that she expected them to fulfill her every command no matter what.

“That is completely false,” she said. “Most of my requests they refused completely. They didn’t do anything I asked.”

She insisted that she was more cautious about state funding than any other prime minister of Israel, and blamed Menny Naftali — the official residence’s former caretaker, who last year successfully sued her for verbal and emotional abuse — for “wasting money like crazy.”

In the indictment, she and Saidoff, the former PMO deputy director, are accused of violating laws that ban the ordering of prepared food from outside when a chef is employed at the residence.

In addition to the fraud case, Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu have been questioned as part of the Bezeq telecommunications giant graft probe. The case involves suspicions Prime Minister Netanyahu advanced regulations benefiting Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site.

Police investigators arrive at the prime minister’s resident in Jerusalem to interrogate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 2, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police have also recommended the prime minister himself stand trial for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in two other cases. The attorney general has yet to decide whether to press charges against the prime minister.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are alleged to have received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, totaling NIS 1 million ($282,000). In return, Netanyahu is alleged by police to have intervened on Milchan’s behalf in matters relating to legislation, business dealings, and visa arrangements.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

The Netanyahus have denied wrongdoing in all the cases.

Last week the prime minister lashed out against reports of his family’s financial impropriety, slamming media coverage of him as “Bolshevik propaganda” spread by left-wingers bent on bringing him down.

“For years they have buried and sugarcoated waste and overspending of tens of millions by prime ministers and presidents from the left, and against me they carry out a campaign of character assassination over ice cream, prepared meals and false rumors,” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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