(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s report on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s expenditures is part of an effort by the media to remove him from power, Netanyahu charged Tuesday in a meeting with Likud loyalists.
Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, had convened the ministers and MKs closest to him, along with his lawyer David Shimron and former police commander Ya’acov Barovsky, to plan strategy ahead of the report’s release. They decided at the meeting to downplay the report, blame disgruntled former housekeeper Meni Naftali, and try to direct attention to expenditures by former president Shimon Peres at the President’s Residence.
“The report is exaggerated,” said Likud minister Yuval Steinitz, the politician closest to Netanyahu. “Such a fuss should not be made out of it.”
Steinitz said that in 2012, Peres’s household expenditures were 20 times as much as Netanyahu’s.
He questioned why the report needed to be published a month before the election, when expenses in the Prime Minister’s Residence were never checked under any of Netanyahu’s predecessors.
“Perhaps the comptroller gave in to pressure from the media,” Steinitz suggested.
Steinitz expressed confidence that Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein would not decide to accept Shapira’s recommendation to open an investigation into money received from deposits on soft drink bottles or into how patio furniture was purchased.
He said the Netanyahus had no knowledge of an incident in the report in which an electrician was summoned to their home in Caesarea on Yom Kippur. Steinitz said the Netanyahus always spend Yom Kippur in Jerusalem.
The Likud released an official statement saying that Netanyahu respects the findings released in the comptroller’s report. The statement said that large portions of the recommendations in the report were implemented prior to its release and that Netanyahu had issued a directive to implement the remaining recommendations in the best and most effective manner possible.
“To our sincere regret, the ongoing media campaign which has surrounded this issue for weeks in advance of the report’s release was a clear effort to remove the prime minister from office and the Likud from leadership through a focus on irrelevant minutia and distract from the real issue at hand: Who will defend the State of Israel in the face of the real security threats and pressure from the international community – Netanyahu or [his opponents]?” the Likud statement said.
The Likud said that among the items that were investigated in the comptroller’s report there were absolutely no indications of any assault on the public’s integrity nor of any criminal transgressions. The party said the report’s introduction “includes reference to inconsequential matters regarding the recycling of bottles and patio furniture” and said such issues were not investigated by the comptroller.
“Neither the prime minister nor the Prime Minister’s Office received any official request for clarification pertaining to these matters,” the statement said. “Therefore, no opportunity was afforded to offer an official response.”
The Likud complained that the report did not offer any comparisons to other official residences in Israel, such as the President’s Residence. It noted that the expenses of the Prime Minister’s Residence had been reduced significantly over the past two years and were reduced significantly following Naftali’s departure from his former position.
“The expenses significantly increased during a specific period of time when the house’s maintenance and operation were directed by Mr. Meni Naftali – an embittered former public employee,” the Likud said. “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.”
Naftali called a press conference in which he said he was hurt by the Likud’s accusations.
His lawyers said Netanyahu should be ashamed for blaming Naftali for his own problems.