Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s attorney said on Saturday night that the Prime Minister and his wife do not live extravagant lives. He was responding to public anger over figures released this past week and which show that the budget of the Prime Minister’s Residence has increased by 80% over a period of four years.
“The Netanyahus do not live an extravagant life,” the attorney, Yossi Cohen, told Channel 2 News. “Come to the prime minister’s home and see the modesty and the rust,” he added.
"This house is no ordinary house," he added. "In fact, much of this house serves as an office and as a place to receive guests. There is a lot of activity going on in this house. More than once I was there at 10:00 p.m. and saw the Prime Minister coming into the office and sitting and working until 11:00.”
The figures published this week show that the budget of the Prime Minister’s Residence was 3 million shekels in 2009, but jumped to 5.4 million shekels by 2012.
The numbers show an increase of tens of percentages in expenses in areas such as official hosting and food, cleaning and household, and purchases of furnishings and house wares, among others.
Explaining the jump in the budget, Cohen said, “First of all, the work being done at the Prime Minister’s Residence has grown immensely. This is the most difficult job in the world. Heads of the Mossad, defense officials, ministers, presidents and prime ministers are constantly visiting this house.”
Asked about the surge in the cleaning budget, which stood at 553,000 shekels in 2009 but jumped by 118% and stood at 1.2 million shekels in 2012, Cohen explained that the numbers do not include only cleaning expenses.
“The so-called cleaning expenses include the expenses of all the employees and the food at the Prime Minister’s Residence,” he said. “There was a time period when there was no cook and food had to be ordered from outside. Due to this, there was an increase in amounts incurred."
"Our prime minister, unlike any ordinary person, never stops working," said the lawyer. "When he comes to his private home in Caesarea on the weekends, he continues to work all the time,” he added, when asked about the fact that some of public money was spent on Netanyahu’s private residence in Caesarea.
“The Netanyahu family lives a modest life,” he stressed.
Netanyahu recently came under criticism from the Israeli public after it was reported that he ordered a double bed installed on a jet that took him to Britain for Margaret Thatcher's funeral, at a cost of about 500,000 shekels.
Netanyahu's bureau explained that the bed was installed in order to enable Netanyahu to rest well after a very long working day in Israel and before another long day in Britain.
Responding to the criticism over this, Attorney Cohen said, “This is an exaggeration and an inaccuracy. The reason the plane cost about half a million shekels more is not because of the bed. We need to understand that the Prime Minister was busy with ceremonies before he took off for London. The bed on the plane was nothing more than plywood with a rubber mat."
MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) has sent a letter to State Comptroller Yosef Shapira, asking him to investigate the enormous increase in the spending budget of the Prime Minister’s official residence.
"At this time, when harsh economic measures are being imposed on the Israeli public, the fact that the Prime Minister is conducting himself as if he is in a parallel universe and totally divorced from reality is particularly striking,” wrote Cabel in the letter to Shapira.
"At a time when the Prime Minister is signing off on a budget that hurts almost every home in Israel and asking the people to tighten their belts, we expect him to set a personal example and reduce spending that is funded by tax payers," he added. "Unfortunately, the data show that he chose the opposite way and brought about a disproportionate and ostentatious rise in the management of his residence.”