TWO months into his new term in office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself depending on an even narrower majority, susceptible to the “extortion” of practically any lawmaker.
His political footing is so tenuous that he had to keep his defence minister from attending an international security conference in June because he couldn’t spare the minister’s vote. Another time, an ailing Cabinet minister was forced out of bed to save the government from the humiliation of losing a crucial late-night budget vote.
To add to the prime minister’s woes, Israel’s attorney general has ordered a criminal investigation into excessive spending at his residences.
Monday’s announcement followed a report by the state comptroller, an official watchdog body, that cited large sums of public money spent on food, furniture, cleaning and gardening at Netanyahu and his wife’s official residence in Jerusalem, and their private home in the exclusive coastal city of Caesarea.
Cleaning expenses in that home alone averaged more than $2,100 a month in taxpayers’ money, according to the February report, even though the couple only spent the occasional weekend there.
It also said they pocketed proceeds from recycling bottles that had been purchased for entertaining official guests. The bottle returns, and purchases of garden furniture for their private home, may have violated the law.
The Netanyahus are not expected to be questioned yet, with most of the focus directed at Ezra Saidoff, a staffer who oversees much of their affairs.
Netanyahu’s office declined comment, though in the past they have accused the media of a witch-hunt against them.
The Netanyahus are no strangers to such scrutiny. The prime minister has long been saddled with an image as a cigar-smoking, cognac-drinking socialite, while his wife has come under fire for her own expensive tastes and alleged abusive behaviour toward staff.
Over the years, reports have been released about the high cost of the Netanyahus’ catering, housekeeping, furniture, clothing and make-up. In one case, the premier was chided for spending $127,000 in public funds for a special sleeping cabin on a flight to London. Even their costly purchases of scented candles and pistachio-flavored ice cream have been derided.
Meanwhile, unruly backbenchers in Netanyahu’s own Likud party have embarrassed him with their antics, and now he is facing growing criticism at home for failing to stop the international community’s nuclear deal with Iran.
Insiders say Netanyahu is in no danger of being toppled anytime soon, despite calls by opposition politicians that he step down over the Iran issue. However, it remains to be seen whether he will actually be able to get anything done in his fourth term in office.
“He can survive. The question is what quality of life he will have,” said Amit Segal, a political commentator for Channel 2 TV. “It’s hard to see him pushing forward with anything big.”
Some would say that is just how Netanyahu likes it. On course to become the longest- serving prime minister in Israeli history, his legacy thus far is one of longevity rather than bold measures of war and peace that defined his predecessors.
His lobbying against the Iran nuclear deal took a big hit with last week’s US-led agreement, with the Iran issue being a hallmark of his political career.