Personal expenses for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu soared 80 percent in the last year, according to figures that his office were forced to release after it ignored a formal request and acquiesced only after a petition for disclosure was filed in court.
The anti-Netanyahu Israeli press, which is just about all of the local media, jumped on the Prime Minister and his wife Sarah for freely spending the taxpayers’ money at a time when the government is carrying out austerity measures to reduce the budget deficit.
The attacks are somewhat populist, but that does not detract from the fact that some of the Netanyahus’ spending habits are from frugal.
However, compared with President Barack Obama, the Israeli expenditures are peanuts.
Of course, comparing the United States with Israel is like comparing Wyoming with New York, but there also is one other very basic difference: Israel loves to hang out its collective dirty laundry in full view of the public.
The Israeli society is nothing if not open. Thanks to the official list of expenditures, we now know that the Netanyahus spent approximately $40,000 for gardening last year at the family’s official home and two private residences.
Cosmetic and haircut and hairdo expense rose last year from $9,250 to nearly $18,000.
We don’t know how much the White House spent on keeping Obama and Michelle’s hair neat and prim, but you can bet your bottom shekel that $18,000 barely paid for a shave and after-shave.
In Israel, the principle often is more important than the principal, and the public indeed needs a leader who can be an example of a bit of modest spending at a time when the government wants to hike taxes and lower services to the public.
Netanyahu earlier this year was embarrassed by the disclosure that he asked for $2,700 to lap up ice cream, one of his weaknesses. He put a stop to his habit, at least not at the public’s expense.
Last week, he had to order a halt to the use of a special airplane bedroom that was installed for the price of $125,000 when he and his wife flew to Britain for the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. The special room will be removed, except for trans-Atlantic flights.
In the United States, President Obama has been has attacked for his costly habit of playing golf. His recent outing with Tiger Woods cost $78,000 just for security.
ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney how much is spent for President Obama’s golf tours?
“Well, the president is the President of the United States,” Carney replied. “And he is elected to represent all of the people. And he travels around the country, appropriately. I don’t have a figure on the cost of presidential travel. It is obviously something, as every President deals with because of security and staff, a significant undertaking. But the President has to travel around the country. He has to travel around the world. That is part of his job.”
“How much does it cost for him to go and play golf?” Karl insisted.
Carney never answered the question.
The large outlay for political leaders’ quirks raises the question of how much they need to be pampered to keep from collapsing under the strain of public office.
“Bibi is king, and in a monarchy, when the king and queen fly, price is no object,” political commentator Sima Kadmon wrote in Israel’s Yediot Acharonot.
The president’s total impersonal expenditures are estimated at $1.4 billion a year, and that more or less is the same level of spending in the Bush administration.
But there is a limit, morally. Can Prime Minister Netanyahu function without so much ice cream, even without taking into account that he can do without the calories?
And does the White House really have to spend more than $250,000 a year on flowers, the figure that is an official government statistic?
Battering Netanyahu is popular and often justified, and the results are positive. Bedroom flights to Europe have been scrapped, and the ice cream budget has melted.
Now let’s see if Obama starts playing less golf.