Political opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seized on an official report detailing excessive spending and possible criminal misdeeds released Tuesday, portraying the premier as out of touch with average Israelis.
At the same time, Netanyahu’s Likud party defended the prime minister’s huge personal expenses, casting the blame on ex-custodian Menny Naftali, who is in the midst of a legal battle with the Netanyahus over alleged abuses by the premier’s wife.
The bombshell State Comptroller report substantiated complaints of financial improprieties on the part of Netanyahu at his official home in Jerusalem and private residence in the seaside town of Caesarea.
The highly anticipated report stated that expenditures at the Prime Minister’s Residence were excessive and improper, and that budgetary practices had not been carried out with integrity and transparency.
It all left open the possibility that the prime minister and his wife could face charges over financial improprieties.
The Likud party blamed caretaker Menny Naftali, who has filed charges against the Netanyahus for mistreatment and for the increase in spending, while insisting that spending has been slashed considerably in the past two years.
“It is important to note the expenses of the Prime Minister’s residence have been reduced significantly over the past two years,” a statement from the party said. “The expenses significantly increased during a specific period of time when the house’s maintenance and operation were directed by Mr. Menny Naftali – an embittered former public employee.”
The party charged that Naftali is “currently leading a campaign of slander and defamation against the prime minister with the specific goal of illegitimately leveraging his claim for financial gain from the state coffers and to damage the Prime Minister and the Likud party during this period of Knesset elections.”
The Likud party said Netanyahu “respects the findings,” and has directed his staff to implement the comptroller’s recommendations.
Meanwhile, politicians left of Likud rebuked the prime minister for the expenses.
Zionist Union party leader Isaac Herzog, a prime minister hopeful, castigated the prime minister for a slew of failures beyond the excessive spending, including Hamas’s strengthening in the Gaza Strip, the high cost of living and poverty rates.
“We don’t need the State Comptroller report to know that modest like [Menachem] Begin, you are not,” Herzog wrote on Facebook. “The hedonism, the ill treatment of workers, and the spending of public funds makes one’s blood boil, but the public wants to replace you not because of your conduct at home, but rather because you ruined our [national] home.”
The faction’s number three, Shelley Yachimovich, said she was most upset by the prime minister’s ordering an electrician on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.
“Personally, what hurt and bothered me most about the report was the ordering of an electrician on Yom Kippur,” she wrote. “For five years already, I haven’t purchased anything at the AM-PM [convenience store], because on Yom Kippur 2009, they forced workers to come set up the shelves. When a prime minister does this, it’s simply unbelievable.”
The Yesh Atid party also responded to the report, saying: “What matters is the citizens not the carpets.”
“The State Comptroller’s report paints a picture that the citizens of Israel understood long ago. On Balfour Street in Jerusalem sits a man who is totally disconnected and for whom the real problems of the people of Israel are the last thing on his mind,” the party said.
Meretz party leader Zahava Gal-on condemned Netanyahu’s “wanton hedonism” which she said reflected his disconnect from the Israeli public “and the adoption of the corrupt norms more befitting of a banana republic.”
“The criminal aspect of the report is important,” said Gal-on, “but secondary to the moral aspect – when the prime minister and his wife allow themselves to spend exorbitant amounts of money, untold in the history of the Prime Minister’s Residence. In the next Knesset I will initiate a bill that will put a cap on the budget allotted to the Prime Minister’s Residence.”
Renee Ghert-Zand contributed to this report.