The criticism leveled at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday following the release of the expense reports concerning the prime minister's official and private residences, was denounced by several senior ministers in the government as unjust and unfair.
"Those who cannot handle Netanyahu's [political] positions and path are trying to target him personally. Enough with the personal persecution of Netanyahu. It's unprecedented. No other leader has ever had to endure it," Intelligence, Strategic Affairs, and International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud-Beytenu), who is accompanying the prime minister during his official visit in Italy, said.
Education Minister Shay Piron (Yesh Atid) echoed the sentiment, saying, "I disapprove of this prying into the prime minister's expenses. I'm not advocating waste of course, but something about this [criticism] seems exaggerated to me. It's disproportionate and meddlesome. I don't know, it's a gut feeling. I can't exactly put it into words. And before you [the media] turn on me -- I'm all for modesty and transparency."
The expense report was release on Sunday afternoon, following a petition by the Movement for Freedom of Information in Israel. It states that in 2012, the state's expenses on the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem amounted to 2.97 million shekels ($767,000), while the expenses on the Netanyahus' private residences in Caesarea and in Jerusalem amounted to NIS 313,000 ($88,950) and NIS 4,500 ($1,280) respectively.
The figures released did not include state expenditure on security, which cannot be disclosed. The Movement for Freedom of Information petitioned to access that information as well, but the figures were not included in the Prime Minister's Office's response to the petition.
The report stated that the expenses detailed in it exceeded the original budget of NIS 2.2 million ($625,400) by NIS 1.1 million ($312,700).
The report concerning the Caesarea residence detailed expenses such as NIS 6,000 ($1,700) for scented candles and a NIS 30,000 ($8,520) phone bill, as well as a NIS 80,000 ($22,737) water bill, that included drought tax. The residence was also fined NIS 5,000 ($1,420) for irregular water use.
The Prime Minister's Office said the amount included back-billing for the years 2009-2011 and that the amount in question represented water expenses spanning four years.
The water bill "includes the water used in the security details' quarters, as the security guards live on the premises the year-round, per the Shin Bet's orders. The state does not pay for any expenses pertaining to the pool on the premises, including water. The Netanyahus pay for these expenses out of their own pocket," the Prime Minister's Office stressed.
The Caesarea residence was also billed over NIS 10,000 ($2,840) for shutters' repair and some NIS 120,000 ($34,110) for overall maintenance and cleaning expenses.
The report concerning the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem detailed expenses such as NIS 37,000 ($10,520) for clothing, NIS 9,800 ($2,785) for hair styling, NIS 12,440 ($3,540) for cosmetics and grooming, NIS 4,568 ($1,230) on footwear and nearly NIS 10,000 ($2,840) for mezuzot.
The Netanyahus' laundry bills also amounted to tens of thousands of shekels, exceeding the budget by some NIS 10,000 ($2,840). Some criticism was voiced over the use of a specific laundry service despite the Prime Minister's Office's receiving lower bids from other service providers, but the PMO said in response that the service provider in question offered the best laundry services compared to several others that have ruined garments in the past.
The report also listed the prime minister's entertaining expenses, noting over NIS 36,000 ($10,230) for catering and some NIS 8,500 ($2,420) for media.
Alona Winograd, director of the Movement for Freedom of Information, remarked Sunday that, "The information provided by the Prime Minister's Office was not as detailed as we had hoped." She further expressed hope that the report will "push the issue of transparency by public officials higher up on the public agenda."
The official statement released by the Prime Minister's Office following the report's publication said that the official residence in Jerusalem serves as a work venue, where official meetings and events for foreign dignitaries are held. "The scope of cash-based expenses in 2012, which amounted to NIS 430,000 ($122,155), was irregular and caused an accounting distortion, because this amount does not fully pertain to 2012.
"In 2013, the expenses of the prime minister's official residence dropped by 16 percent compared to 2012. Food spending dropped by 43% and gardening expenses dropped by 40%. The Caesarea residence has also noted a 42% drop in expenses," the statement said.
The Prime Minister's Office's statement began with a quote given by the late Arik Einstein to Yedioth Aharonoth in 1998, saying, "The way Prime Minister Netanyahu is being treated is a terrible injustice. It's borderline abuse and I'm simply shocked by the level of contempt and hatred toward him. To what degree can people suck out his life's blood? How far are they willing to go, entering private rooms?"
Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry on Sunday asked the Knesset's Finance Committee to increase the budget appropriation for the president's residence by NIS 3.3 million ($937,260). Should the request be approved, the president's residence would enjoy a budget of NIS 58.5 million ($16.6 million).