JERUSALEM -- Embarrassing disclosures about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s household spending habits are stoking public anger as Israelis brace for new government-approved austerity measures, including tax hikes and reduced social benefits.
A new report by the watchdog group Movement for Freedom of Information revealed that taxpayer-funded expenses to support Netanyahu’s three residences (one official and two private) rose in 2012 to nearly $1.5 million, up 80% compared with 2009.
Included in the 2012 expenses were $27,000 a month for cleaning (up 119% since 2009), $11,000 a month for food and hospitality (up 124%) and $1,450 a month for various personal expenses such as hairdressers and makeup (up 94%.)
Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying the expenses, including those for his seaside estate in the upscale community in Caesarea, were justified because they were “for official events held in the prime minister’s home.”
But the disclosure comes just days after Netanyahu took a public drubbing for spending $127,000 in public funds to install a double bed and private “resting chamber” on an El Al plane for a five-hour flight to London for the funeral of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
On Tuesday, the newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported that Netanyahu’s entourage during his recent China trip including 31 people, compared with 15 people who accompanied former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2007. Two staffers were assigned to tend to Netanyahu’s wife and two sons, the paper said.
Netanyahu’s office defended the size of the group, saying his China trip was “more complex’’ than Olmert’s, according to the newspaper.
Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, have faced questions about their spending habits before. Earlier this year, the prime minister canceled a state contract after it was disclosed that he was spending $2,700 a year for his favorite ice cream. In 2011, Netanyahu was investigated for accepting expensive flights, hotel stays and meals from wealthy benefactors while he served as a government minister. No charges were brought.
Israeli media outlets lambasted Netanyahu for what they said were lavish habits at a time when most Israelis were feeling the pinch of the rising cost of living.
Many reprinted a picture of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin curled up asleep across two airplane seats during a 12-hour trip to the United States, praising the nation’s previous leaders for setting better examples of frugality and modesty.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu’s government passed a new budget that will include a 1.5% rise in personal income taxes and a hike in the valued-added tax -- a type of sales tax -- to 18%, up from 16% last year.
Netanyahu has said the austerity measures, including a $800-million cut in military spending, are needed to lower Israel’s $10-billion budget deficit. But last weekend, thousands of Israelis protested against the new budget, threatening to reactivate large-scale demonstrations that took place two years ago.