Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s family will pay for its own food, he said on Wednesday, following a public uproar over the amount it paid for delivered meals.
"Although our behavior was in accordance with the rules, I am aware of the feeling created in the public," Bennett said. "Therefore, I announced to the staff of my office that from now on, all of my family's food expenses will be paid from my personal account."
Bennett, who sold two hi-tech companies for over $250 million, said that he is "not in this job for money or respect, but to serve the citizens of Israel with all my might, and that is what I'll continue to do."
The prime minister's statement comes days after reports that he spent NIS 87,700 (nearly $27,000) of taxpayer money per month on the delivery of takeout meals, cleaning and workers at his private home in Ra’anana, where he and his family live, as opposed to the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem.
Bennett’s office responded that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent far more – NIS 280,000 ($86,000) per month – on the Prime Minister’s Residence and on his personal home in Caesarea.
Critics have said that Bennett’s decision to reside in Ra’anana has cost millions of shekels, while Bennett himself has said that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) asked him not to move into the Jerusalem residence so that it can improve security there.
The Shin Bet has released a rare statement that its costs to cover Bennett’s security in Ra’anana are similar to the outlay for previous prime ministers.
Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, praised Bennett for the decision on Twitter, writing "Good for you. You did the right thing."
But Likud MK Miki Zohar said Bennett needed to immediately pay back taxpayers for the NIS 50,000 used on meals since he became prime minister.
"While admitting to benefiting at the expense of the public, he continues to claim that everything was done according to the rules," Likud MK Shlomo Karhi said. "In the few months that he is still on the job, it should be checked if his takeaway expenses are just as bloated as before. Bennett, this fig leaf will not succeed in covering the tens of millions of taxpayer money you wasted on home improvements instead of living in the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem."
The Movement for Quality Government called for changing the law and removing food expenses from what is covered in the prime minister's residence. The movement called on Bennett to convene the Knesset Finance Committee to change the framework. The movement would make an exception only for official meals required as part of the role.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.