PM Netanyahu boards a plane 311 (R).
(photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is known to be a history buff – he loves to
read biographies of great leaders, and his father was a historian – but he seems
to have forgotten that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to
repeat it,” as philosopher George Santayana said.
How else can he explain
making the same blunder three times within four years? And why hasn’t the Prime
Minister’s Office taken the obvious step to prevent further faux pas – and save
millions each year – by buying a private plane? Netanyahu’s office claimed this
weekend that he did not know how much it cost to put a bed on his flight to
London earlier this year – but he faced similar media uproars in 2010 and 2011,
and promised then, as he did on Saturday, to stop installing beds on
Following reports that the installation of a bedroom on his plane
to London for former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s funeral cost
half a million shekels, sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu
had no idea how much it cost and put out a “comprehensive and unambiguous” order
not to do so again on short flights.
Whether the prime minister himself
knew about the costs is difficult to determine, but his office certainly was
aware, as the current “Bed-gate” is a repeat of events of 2010 and
In May 2010, Netanyahu flew to Paris for a ceremony accepting
Israel into the OECD, and continued from there to Canada.
Lilach Weissman reported at the time that the prime minister requested that a
bedroom be put on the plane.
The Prime Minister’s Office rented an El Al
Boeing 767 midsize, wide-body airliner, at the cost of NIS 310,000 more than an
Arkia or Israir Boeing 757 mid-size, narrow-body plane that cannot have a
bedroom installed in it.
Almost a year later, the PMO issued a tender for
flights to Berlin and then Prague to take place on April 6, 2011, which required
a bedroom be put on the aircraft.
The flight to Berlin was four hours
long and took place in the afternoon, and travel time from Berlin to Prague was
about one hour.
A day after the tender for the flight was issued, the PMO
canceled the demand for a bed, amid public criticism.
recommendations starting in 2009 from the Shin Bet, the Finance Ministry, the
Transportation Ministry and an independent consulting firm hired by the PMO for
Netanyahu’s office to buy him a private plane and save millions annually, Israel
still doesn’t have its equivalent of Air Force One.
Last year, Netanyahu
appointed a committee of ministers led by Transportation Minister Israel Katz
that also included the Finance Ministry, Shin Bet and National Security Council
chairman Yaakov Amidror, to make a final decision on the matter. The committee
determined that a private plane would be cheaper and safer than renting
According to the Finance Ministry’s calculations, a
plane would cost the government about NIS 100 million, plus approximately NIS
5m. in maintenance each year. The investment is expected to pay for itself
within five years. After 10 years the government would save NIS 12m. annually,
which it currently pays to private airlines.
Despite green light after
green light, the Prime Minister’s Office still hasn’t bought a plane, probably
because Netanyahu is waiting for the right timing in order to avoid public
criticism that the expense is extravagant.
At the same time, Netanyahu is
facing uproar this week while renting a commercial plane.
Either way, he
can’t win, so perhaps he should do what saves the most money so we, the
taxpayers, win – even if it means there will be some unpleasant headlines in the
tabloids the next day.