A photo appearing to show Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sleeping on the airplane floor during his return flight from signing the Israel-UAE-Bahrain normalization accords at the White House this week surfaced on social media Thursday, sparking debate between his supporters and opponents.
The photo, which was initially circulated on social media by Likud activists, features Netanyahu asleep on his side with an open book and reading glasses next to him on the El Al plane from the US on Tuesday-Wednesday.
Supporters of the prime minister used the photo to praise Netanayhu for his hard work and lament his treatment at the hands of opponents. Several social media users, however, suggested that the photo appeared to be taken in a way that hid a mattress on the floor of the first class area, with some wondering if the premier had posed the shot altogether to garner sympathy.
The prime minister and his family originally planned to fly to Washington on a private plane to attend the Tuesday ceremony but nixed the plan after the move was criticized as wasteful and insensitive, especially due to the expected financial cost of the second coronavirus lockdown. Instead they flew on the same El Al plane as their delegation members and the traveling press.
The government gave final approval to a three-week nationwide lockdown set to begin Friday after the country saw a spike in coronavirus cases in recent weeks. During the lockdown, many businesses will close and Israelis will be largely confined to staying within 500 meters (1,640 feet) of their homes.
Former Knesset member for the Jewish Home party Yinon Magal, a Netanyahu ally, said on Twitter that he hoped reporters and journalists were “happy that a prime minister returning from a historic peace deal in the White House slept on the floor.”
אני מקווה לפחות שהכתבים המדיניים ומערכות החדשות שלהם מרוצים שראש ממשלה שחוזר מהסכם שלום היסטורי בבית הלבן ישן על הרצפה.
כפרה עליו נרדם עם ספר❤ pic.twitter.com/BVYSgkfS8b
— ינון מגל (@YinonMagal) September 16, 2020
The originally proposed private plane was expected to cost at least NIS 600,000 ($145,000). It was canceled after the jet’s owners asked the Prime Minister’s Office to reconsider in the wake of public criticism, Channel 12 news reported on Friday.
The PMO said in a statement to Channel 12 news that “no such message reached the office,” saying the private flight was canceled “so as not to allow media to divert public attention from the historic peace accord with the UAE, and potentially with other Arab nations.”
This is not the first time Netanyahu has been involved in a tussle regarding his method of transportation.
In 2013 the prime minister faced scathing criticism after it was revealed he spent $127,000 (over NIS 450,000) in taxpayer money having an El Al plane fitted out with a double bed in an enclosed bedroom for his five-hour flight to London to attend the funeral of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.