Analysis: PM faced 'bed-gate' criticism in the past

An Israeli "Air Force One" would save millions each year; PMO claims Netanyahu didn't know cost of installing bed on plane, but past reports indicate otherwise.

PM Netanyahu boards a plane 311 (R) (photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
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 planes.
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 2011.
In May 2010, Netanyahu flew to Paris for a ceremony accepting Israel into the OECD, and continued from there to Canada.
Globes reporter 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.
Meanwhile, despite 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 commercial planes.
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.