'I am not Bibi, Gilat is not Sara, my children are not Yair'

PM rejects report on home spending, says his expenses far lower than Netanyahu’s

Countering report on Channel 13 alleging waste and high take-out bill, premier releases budget he claims proves his family’s spending is one-third of his predecessor’s

A guard post is seen outside Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's home in the central city of Ra'anana, June 30, 2021. (Screen capture/YouTube)
A guard post is seen outside Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's home in the central city of Ra'anana, June 30, 2021. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office rejected a recent television report that alleged extravagant spending at his Ra’anana home, saying its expenses are far lower than those of his predecessor.

In a statement, Bennett’s office said the spending at his personal home, which also currently functions, albeit informally, as his official residence, amounted to NIS 87,700 ($26,890) a month in taxpayer money, on things like cleaning, workers, and food — roughly the same figure cited in the Channel 13 report on Saturday night.

However, the Prime Minister’s Office said that this amounted to far less than the amount spent by his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, who spent NIS 280,000 ($86,000) each month in total at his two residences, the official Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem and his family home in Caesarea. Bennett’s office also noted that the NIS 87,700 amounted to far less than he could legally request.

“I tried to avoid this, but I have no choice,” wrote Bennett in a lengthy Facebook post on Sunday, refuting the allegations. “In the face of a machine of lies, I must present the truth.”

Bennett added that “there is an attempt to paint everyone as corrupt. But I am not Bibi [Netanyahu], Gilat is not Sara, my children are not Yair… the expenses of the prime ministerial residence have shrunk dramatically in my term. The attempts to present me as a hedonist are laughable.”

In a contentious decision, Bennett has continued to live exclusively in his private home in Ra’anana, rather than moving 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 attending their schools in Ra’anana and maintaining a more normal routine, rather than uprooting them to a new city. He has continued to justify the move as being necessary in order to allow the Shin Bet security service to make renovations to the Jerusalem residence.

One of three metal walls closing streets leading to the prime minister’s Ra’anana home, January 13, 2022. (Carrie Keller-Lynn/Times of Israel)

In an irregular move, the Shin Bet also released its own statement, alongside that of the Prime Minister’s Office, defending the large sums of money being spent on new security measures for Bennett’s Ra’anana home, saying they were necessary to protect the premier and were similar to efforts made for previous prime ministers.

The PMO said it welcomed the media’s job to criticize the government “so long as facts and truth are the basis, and that there is not a cynical use of the media platform.”

Netanyahu’s Likud party fired back at the prime minister, calling him a liar and accusing the media of “covering for him.”

In a statement, the party also noted that the money being spent by the Prime Minister’s Office was for Bennett’s private home, not the official residence.

“The law states that the official residence of the prime minister will be in Jerusalem, not Ra’anana,” the party said.

In its statement, the Prime Minister’s Office offered justifications for a number of specific claims made in the Channel 13 report, specifically a high take-out food bill. Bennett’s office said this was due to the fact that the family does not employ an in-house cook — as a prime minister is entitled to do — which would cost far more than ordering food from nearby restaurants. Instead, the family orders in its food from nearby restaurants, which comes to NIS 24,700 ($7,571) per month, or roughly NIS 133 ($40) per day for each of the six members of the Bennett household. (In comparison, the three Netanyahus spent NIS 37,300 [$11,430] each month on food or roughly NIS 414 [$127] per day, according to the PMO.)

The premier’s office added that the Bennetts are legally entitled to hire up to eight in-house staff members, but only employ three, unlike Netanyahu who made full use of the provision.

“The state provides funding for the expenses of the house in Ra’anana in order to provide the prime minister with the services and the support structure that he requires to fulfill his duty, as all premiers and their families have been entitled to for years,” his office said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, his wife Gilat, and their four children at the Knesset on June 13, 2021. (Naftali Bennett/Instagram)

Separately, the Shin Bet confirmed Bennett’s justification for staying in Ra’anana, saying it was necessary to make long-needed improvements to the Jerusalem residence’s security systems.

“With the changing of the prime ministers, our position on this from the past few years was clarified that the Balfour residence requires security updates to allow the prime minister to live there. This comes with recognition of the fact that some of these [updates] cannot be carried out when the prime minister is living in the residence. The work process at the residence is being carried out at the Shin Bet’s instigation and order,” the security service said.

In addition, the Shin Bet defended the security upgrades made to the Bennett household, whose costs total some NIS 50 million ($15.3 million).

“It was customary to make security arrangements to the private homes of previous prime minister, based on threat assessments and other relevant considerations,” it said.

Bennett’s decision to remain in Ra’anana has drawn the ire principally of his neighbors in the quiet Ra’anana suburb, who found themselves living on a fiercely guarded street where boisterous protests suddenly became a regular occurrence.

Activists have also criticized the premier’s decision, since the state-owned Prime Minister’s Residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street serves as a more legitimate location for protests, where the other residents know to anticipate demonstrations, unlike Bennett’s Ra’anana street, whose inhabitants had no such expectations.

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