Bibi's expenses bombshell: Could scathing report derail prime minister's re-election bid?

New poll suggests Israeli PM could suffer at the ballot box in wake of damning new revelations

By Luke Brinker
Published February 18, 2015 3:02PM (EST)
  (Reuters/Nir Elias)
(Reuters/Nir Elias)

Benjamin Netanyahu's political future is in jeopardy following the release of a scathing report on the Israeli prime minister's living and hospitality expenses, a new Israeli Army Radio poll finds.

Israeli State Comptroller Yosef Shapira released the long-anticipated report on Tuesday, detailing Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu's exorbitant spending on food, cleaning services, and clothing after Netanyahu took office for the second time in 2009. In 2012 alone, the Netanyahus' taxpayer-funded food costs totaled nearly $120,000, almost a third of which was spent on takeout meals, even though the couple enjoy a cook and full staff. The state also picked up the $2,120 monthly tab for cleaning expenses at the Netanyahus' private beach resort; by comparison, the average pretax salary for an Israeli worker is $2,376. Additionally, Shapira's inquiry found that the Netanyahus charged the state $68,000 over a two-year period for makeup, hairstyling, and "presentation."

Some of the Netanyahus' expenses were paid out of the personal pockets of the couple's employees, who were never reimbursed.

Shapira described two potential areas of criminal behavior: Sara Netanyahu's pocketing of deposits on state-purchased drink bottles, which were later reimbursed; and allegations that the Netanyahus sent garden furniture purchased for their official residence to their private home. A Shapira spokesman told Haaretz that the comptroller believes there is sufficient evidence to consider a criminal probe.

The Israeli Army Radio poll released Wednesday underscores the report's potentially explosive political ramifications. In the poll, 41 percent of voters said that the new report made them less likely to support Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party ahead of the country's fiercely contested March 17 elections. While a 49 percent plurality said the report would not influence their vote, 22 percent of those who were leaning toward Likud indicated that the report had prompted them to reconsider. Many of those voters may well opt for other rightist parties that could then enter into a coalition government with Likud, but Shapira's report could also nudge many voters toward the center-left Zionist Union alliance of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livini.

Although many analysts see Netanyahu as the favorite to lead Israel's next government, a poll released last week found that a quarter of voters were still undecided, with those who had yet to make up their minds leaning toward the Zionist Union. This week's report is unlikely to dissuade them from pulling the lever for the alliance.

Luke Brinker

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Benjamin Netanyahu Corruption Isaac Herzog Israel Likud Polls Sara Netanyahu Tzipi Livini Zionist Union