The Knesset Finance Committee held a session on Wednesday morning to approve Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's request to fund both of his private homes – on Azza Street in Jerusalem and in Caesarea – at the state's expense.
According to current Israeli law, the state finances the expenses of the official residence in Jerusalem, as well as a prime minister's private residence if it is outside of Jerusalem. However, the official residence on Balfour Street is currently under renovation, and Netanyahu's representatives requested in the committee that the house on Azza Street count as the official Jerusalem residence, and the Caesarea house count as the residence outside of Jerusalem.
Former Prime Ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid faced similar issues, as the Balfour Residence was deemed uninhabitable already in 2021 when Netanyahu left office. Bennett did not request an alternative residence in Jerusalem and instead worked from his home in Ra'anana. Lapid also did not request an alternative residence in Jerusalem, and instead slept in a small apartment near the Balfour Residence when necessary.
Channel 12 reported on Wednesday that the prime minister's office directed the Likud's MKs to attend the session in order to show support for Netanyahu.
Shouting matches broke out almost immediately as the opposition's MKs charged the committee's members of giving unnecessary state funding to Netanyahu, a multi-millionaire, while other citizens were dealing with high costs of living.
In response to a question by Yesh Atid MK Vladimir Beliak, Prime Minister's Office Director-General Yossi Shelly said that it was not clear how much the decision would cost. The opposition MKs argued that the committee should not be holding a vote without actually knowing the cost was.
Opposition falsely charged Bennett during his tenure
During Prime Minister Naftali Bennet's tenure between June 2021 and June 2022, the opposition falsely charged that he had used NIS 50 million of state funds in order to carry out private renovations in his Ra'anana home. The state did accrue expenses on Bennett's home, but this was for security purposes and in order to turn a basement room into an office.
Likud MK Ofir Katz argued that the expenses that were carried out on Bennett's home were not reported at the time to the finance committee. Katz read from a letter he sent during Bennett's tenure to the committee chair at the time, demanding that the committee hold a session on the matter. The fact that the prime minister's office was being transparent about its expenses was thus an improvement over the previous government's conduct, Katz argued.
The committee did not hold a vote at the end of its session and is expected to approve the new arrangement on Thursday.