PM residence expenses for Bennett, Lapid significantly lower than for Netanyahu

Data shows less than $270,000 spent on residences of both Bennett and Lapid in 2022, compared to $685,000 spent by Netanyahu family on homes in Jerusalem, Caesarea in 2019

File: Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left), the incoming interim prime minister, and outgoing premier Naftali Bennett (right) sit in the Knesset during voting to dissolve parliament for new elections, on June 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
File: Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left), the incoming interim prime minister, and outgoing premier Naftali Bennett (right) sit in the Knesset during voting to dissolve parliament for new elections, on June 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Expenditure at prime ministerial residences was significantly lower during the tenures of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid than under Benjamin Netanyahu, according to figures released Sunday.

Less than NIS 1 million ($270,000) was spent on the residences of both Bennett and Lapid in 2022, compared to NIS 2.5 million ($685,000) spent by the Netanyahu family in 2019, according to data released by the Prime Minister’s Office following a court petition by the Movement for Freedom of Information.

In 2022, the prime minister’s residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street was undergoing renovations (still ongoing) — in the first part of the year while the premier at the time, Bennett, lived at his family home in Ra’anana in a contentious decision.

Many of the expenses incurred by Bennett and Lapid appeared to be initial outlays as part of setting up a new residence or converting a family home for new use, in addition to food and hospitality costs.

The data did not include the renovation costs of securing the homes or for ongoing security.

State expenditure at Bennett’s home in 2022 came to a total of NIS 471,419 ($129,000)  — of that sum, NIS 137,000 ($37,500) was spent on food, around NIS 70,000 ($19,000) was spent on renovations for his office, NIS 20,000 ($5,400) went toward furniture, NIS 20,000 ($5,400) was spent on paintwork, NIS 48,555 ($13,300) on repairs to the parking lot, and NIS 26,640 ($7,300) was spent on repairs to a public park area.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at the 75th anniversary Independence Day ceremony, held at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem on April 25, 2023. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

As Bennett’s home was defined as the official residence, there was no separation between the expenses incurred as private home and those of official function.

After a television report in April 2022 over the amount of money spent on takeaway food at the Bennett home rather than employing an in-house chef, the then-premier announced he would pay from his own pocket to cover the cost of feeding his family, rather than continue to use a state allowance.

When Lapid took over as premier on July 1, 2022, he and his wife moved to an apartment located within the Balfour Street compound, while still spending time at their Tel Aviv home.

During that period, NIS 53,000 ($14,500) was spent on the Jerusalem apartment used by the Lapids — NIS 22,800 ($6,200) on cleaning services, NIS 6,405 ($1,750) on food and hospitality, NIS 1,500 ($400) on laundry and NIS 1,230 ($330) on an executive chair.

Lapid did not submit expenses to the state for costs incurred at his Tel Aviv residence.

While Bennett and Lapid did not live at the official Balfour prime ministerial residence, bills still piled up there too for basic services, coming to around NIS 218,000 ($59,700), including electricity, water and property taxes.

Thus, the total spent in 2022 for all the residences was approximately NIS 743,000 ($203,000).

By way of comparison, the expenses in 2019 for Netanyahu’s official residence at Balfour Street and a private home in Caesarea was NIS 2.5 million ($685,000), according to the Kan public broadcaster.

In 2020, the Netanyahus spent NIS 1.85 million ($507,000), a slightly reduced figure perhaps due to limitations on gatherings and events during the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2021, when Netanyahu was prime minister only until June of that year, NIS 1.4 million ($383,000) came out of the public purse to pay for his family’s home in Jerusalem and a further NIS 239,000 was spent in Caesarea. The Caesarea home in particular incurred relatively high expenses for gardening and flower arrangements.

All told, there was a significant drop in state expenditure on prime ministerial residences under Bennett and Lapid when compared to Netanyahu.

In a statement, the head of the Movement for Freedom of Information, Rachel Edri, hailed the decision by Lapid to separate his private and public expenses.

“After a decade of high expenses that reached millions of shekels, financed by the Israeli public, for the first time the expenses of the prime minister’s residence were less than one million shekels,” Edri said in a statement.

“In addition, it appears that former prime minister Yair Lapid was content with financing his public expenses, without requesting reimbursement for private expenses,” she added.

“What this means is that the transparency promoted by the Movement for Freedom of Information, with the aim of creating a norm of separation between public and private expenditures, helps to protect the public purse,” Edri said.

The Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street, Jerusalem. (Yaakov Saar/GPO)

Costs are expected to rise again now that Netanyahu is back in office.

In February, the Knesset’s Finance Committee approved a request from the prime minister to allocate state funding to cover housing costs at two private residences of the Netanyahu family.

The request pertained to the Netanyahus’ residence on Jerusalem’s Gaza Street and the family home in Caesarea.

Netanyahu had asked the committee to recognize the family’s home on Gaza Street as the premier’s official residence while the renovations and security upgrades at Balfour Street continue. It was unclear why the couple did not live at the Jerusalem apartment used by the Lapids.

The opposition attacked the decision to approve the increased expenditure, saying it showed the government was detached from the public it serves by fast-tracking funding for the premier at two homes while citizens face mounting inflation and rising cost of living.

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