Netanyahus wanted Israeli public to foot bill for private home renovations, report says

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara renovated their private home in Caesarea at a cost of 22,000 shekels ($5,600), and attempted to have the Israeli public foot the bill, according to a report published Monday night on Uvda, an investigative reporting television show.

According to the report, the Netanyahus hired contractor Benny Keren before Netanyahu was elected in 2009 to renovate their home. Later, Keren was asked to submit his estimate of the renovation costs to the Prime Minister’s Office, but refused to do so. In the end, the Netanyahu’s paid the bill themselves.

According to Keren, he sent the couple an estimate of 22,000 shekels for the cost of their desired home renovation. After Netanyahu was elected prime minister, says Keren, he received a phone call from Ezra Saidoff, who presented himself as the head of the construction department of the Prime Minister’s Office, and asked Keren to send the estimate along to the office. "I refused," said Keren, "I gave the estimate to the Netanyahu family."

Keren added that after he completed the renovations he was given "all kinds of excuses" when he tried to contact the Netanyahus. Keren said that only two months later was he told that Sara Netanyahu wanted to meet with him.

"I sat with her by the pool, and what did she tell me? That the prime minister earns 13,000 shekels ($3,300) a month, and that they aren’t rich like their friends," Keren told the Uvda program. "Then she told me: ‘so I’ll give it to you in two payments – I’m paying you because the government wouldn’t pay – but it will. They need to pay for it,’ as if the government is something that should be made use of. I was shocked by what she said," added Keren, who was eventually paid by the Netanyahus.

Last weekend, Meni Naftali, the former chief caretaker of the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, testified that Ezra Saidoff was apparently involved in the Netanyahu family’s private expenses that were covered by public funds. It was published on Tuesday that Saidoff was appointed to a position within the Prime Minister’s Office that included handling money and finances without the approval of the Civil Service Commission, even though the commission had previously decided that Saidoff would not be allowed to handle funds without approval.

In response to inquiry, the Prime Minister’s Office stated that "Various individuals from Israel and abroad are invited to meetings and discussions at the prime minister’s official residence. According to the regulations, the government assists in its expenses, and this was true for previous prime ministers as well. It should be noted that the Netanyahu family pays for municipality tax, insurance, and all pool expenses out of their own pocket."

An aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated in response that "the prime minister and his wife acted within the law on all accounts. This is part of a well-timed slander campaign that includes lies and gossip about the prime minister and his wife. At this fateful time, the prime minister is focusing his efforts an thwarting the dangerous nuclear agreement with Iran.

Ezra Saidoff’s attorney, Gadi Tal, said in response that "everything that was done was done according to law. My client never approved anything illegal or irregular."


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