Netanyahu gets funding boost under shadow of economic woes
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — An Israeli parliamentary committee on Thursday approved new funding for Benjamin Netanyahu and his family, giving the prime minister a boost in personal spending at a time when he is facing mass protests over his policies and as the economy is on shaky ground.
The committee voted to approve public funds to cover expenses incurred by the Netanyahus at their private homes in Jerusalem and the exclusive seaside town of Caesarea, as well as an increase of thousands of dollars a year in clothing expenses for both Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.
The approved funding is bound to compound what critics say is the Netanyahus' reputation for being out of touch with regular Israelis.
“The shekel is crashing, investors are fleeing, interest rates are soaring, hundreds of thousands of citizens can’t make ends meet but the finance committee approved the Netanyahu family’s request to fund two residences at the expense of taxpayers,” the opposition Yesh Atid party said.
“Another reason Netanyahu is out of touch with the people. Another reason for preferring themselves at our expense,” it added.
Thursday's development comes as the country is deeply divided over a plan by Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system and as the economy faces new challenges, with inflation rising and the shekel weakening against the dollar.
Leading economists say the legal changes, which aim to weaken the authority of the Supreme Court, will exacerbate the country's economic problems by driving investors away.
The official prime minister's residence is undergoing renovations. Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also faced criticism for a pricy upgrade of his private home while the official residence was unavailable. Bennett said the changes were required by security officials and approved by the country's attorney general.
The Netanyahus have repeatedly been embroiled in scandals over their spending and expensive tastes.
The prime minister has long been saddled with an image as a cigar-smoking, cognac-drinking socialite, while his wife has come under scrutiny for alleged abusive behavior toward staff.
Netanyahu is on trial for corruption, including one affair in which he allegedly accepted champagne and cigars from wealthy associates. He was also lambasted for advancing a costly plan to outfit a plane for his official trips.
The couple has come under fire for spending at their homes in the past. In 2015, Israel’s state comptroller, an official watchdog, cited large sums of public money spent on food, furniture, cleaning and gardening at the couple’s official and private residences. It also said they pocketed proceeds from recycling bottles that had been purchased for entertaining official guests.
Josef Federman, The Associated Press