Israel's outrage on the Bennetts' costs of living is misplaced - editorial

Two prime ministers are fighting over how much their cleaning and gardening bills are costing the state. As if this is what is really important.

 Naftali Bennett is seen outside his house with his family on January 25, 2013 (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)
Naftali Bennett is seen outside his house with his family on January 25, 2013
(photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

Two prime ministers fought this week about something that Israelis should not have to hear about: how much their families cost the state.

According to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister Naftali Bennett and his family have been living an extravagant lifestyle since taking up the role in June.

This is based on a series of Channel 13 reports in recent weeks on how the renovations that were done to Bennett’s home and street in Ra’anana, where he lives, have reached upward of NIS 50 million. The reports included claims that the Bennett family’s decision to stay in Ra’anana has led to a sharp increase in the amount of money spent by the state. One number that stood out was the NIS 11,000 that the Bennett family has been charging the state in monthly takeouts from restaurants.

In a long Facebook post, Bennett hit back and detailed how much his family cost the state in comparison with how much the state paid for the Netanyahus when the former prime minister was in office. To do that he released a chart showing the differences between the different families’ costs of living.

Netanyahu, Bennett claimed, spent NIS 865,000 on cleaning during a year in office. Cleaning the Bennett house, on the other hand, has cost NIS 170,000. When Netanyahu was in office, he charged the state NIS 38,000 for flowers. The Bennetts have so far not needed flowers. On gardening, the Netanyahus cost the state NIS 106,000 while Bennett’s gardening costs NIS 48,000.

Then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with then minister of Defense and leader of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett, March 4, 2020.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)Then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with then minister of Defense and leader of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett, March 4, 2020. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The prime minister claimed that the reason the takeout cost was so high was because he has fewer workers – including cooks – at his house in Ra’anana than Netanyahu had when he was prime minister.

While amusing to receive a behind-the-scenes look at the way Israeli politicians live, it was a sad moment for Israelis: two prime ministers fighting over how much their cleaning and gardening bills are costing the state. As if this is what is really important.

The chart that Bennett released was immediately a source of criticism. Even members of his own Yamina Party – the few who are left – reportedly slammed the statement that the prime minister issued, since it included a detailed listing of the amount of takeout his family has been ordering. This, they argued, showed a level of extravagance many Israelis had thought was behind them. This is especially the case as Netanyahu stands trial for extravagances of his own, like gifts of cigars and champagne during his tenure in office.

Why the cost of water and gardening should even interest Israelis is questionable. Shouldn’t all expenses for the prime minister and his family be covered by the state? Shouldn’t the prime minister and his family receive dining, electricity, water and more? Isn’t that a basic level of support when a prime minister lives in a home that might not be the official residence but has been temporally recognized as such by the state?

This is all too similar to the way the media would attack Netanyahu for asking to install a bed on airplanes he would charter when flying to the US as prime minister. The media was full of stories then alleging hedonism and extravagance on the part of the Likud leader. But don’t Israelis want their prime minister to arrive at his meetings with the US president well-rested? Do we really need to continue to behave like we are a country in the 1950s without financial resources?

It is time for the country to grow up and stop obsessing over the cost of living for this or that prime minister. How much gardening costs or how much takeout food is eaten is not the real issue. The real issue is that Bennett is not living in Jerusalem, which is the capital of the State of Israel. The excuse that the Balfour Residence is not renovated does not suffice; if it was important to him, the prime minister would have forced the state to find a solution. That is what should be troubling Israelis: why does the prime minister not live in Israel’s capital?