Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s penchant for scented candles has kicked up a stink, with the former special forces commando being accused of spending public money extravagantly.
According to an expense document obtained by a civil liberties group, Mr Netanyahu spent the equivalent of £1,000 on scented candles, £14,000 on flower arrangements and £19,000 on gardening at his official residence in Jerusalem, among other costs totalling about £550,000 in 2012. The group obtained the document following a freedom of information request.
The criticism is the latest in a string of similar reproaches against Mr Netanyahu, who is often accused by Israelis of leading a lavish lifestyle while failing to address the economic ills of the middle class.
The report threatens to embarrass Mr Netanyahu, whose government raised taxes and cut services earlier this year to fight a swelling budget deficit. Coupled with a rising cost of living, Israelis have for years complained that they struggle to make ends meet. Two years ago, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in protest at the country’s high cost of living.
Arye Aplatoni wrote in the Maariv daily newspaper: “When the prime minister presents such inflated and absurd amounts in the expense sheet to the nation, he can’t look at his citizens in the eye and swear that there must be cuts to their welfare, health care, security and education.”
Mr Netanyahu, who is also known to enjoy puffing on cigars and sipping cognac, has been chided for his lifestyle in the past. Earlier this year, a TV station reported that Mr Netanyahu spent £77,000 in public funds for a special sleeping cabin on a five-hour flight to London. Mr Netanyahu was forced to stop buying 14kg of ice cream per month from his favourite Jerusalem parlour, Metudela, after an Israeli newspaper discovered his office was spending £1,800 a year on the treat.
In the new expenses document, Mr Netanyahu was also shown to spend £7,000 on laundry and £25,000 on catering at his official residence.
Expenses for his holiday home in the wealthy town of Caesarea, where he and his family stay at weekends, were also disclosed. The water bill there amounted to more than £13,000 and the electric bill hit £4,500.
In a statement yesterday, the prime minister’s office said the official residence is used throughout the year to host dignitaries and world leaders, as well as meetings with many participants. While media reports said his spending was roughly £180,000 over budget, the statement said this year has seen a decrease in expenses at the official residence by 16 per cent.
The news made front pages and was the featured topic of radio talk shows throughout the day. A cartoon in the Yediot Ahronot daily paper showed Mr Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, lighting lemon grass, vanilla and strawberry scented Hanukkah candles.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Mr Netanyahu’s continued spending sprees may violate the trust of his constituents.
“The public will conduct its own introspection and just as they sent him to the prime minister’s residence they can also remove him,” he told Israel Radio.
Limor Livnat, Israel’s culture and sport minister and a party colleague of Mr Netanyahu, hit back at the “tsunami of attacks” on the prime minister, his wife and their expenditure.
She said: “We have to remember: the prime minister is not only the busiest person in the country, but I would say he is the prime minister of the country hardest to run in the world. And I don’t think I’m overstating this.
“It is round-the-clock work. He works for the country, he has no private life, he can’t go anywhere, he can’t go out for fun, he can’t ride a bike down the street, he needs to have an exercise bike. I know of no other country where there is such persecution.”