Likud, Blue and White parties issue denials as document outlining high cost of funding two prime ministers is submitted to the Knesset Finance Committee.
By Paul Shindman, World Israel News
The taxpayer bill for the national unity government is sparking a battle of narratives between the governing parties of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, Yediot Ahronot reported Monday.
Despite vigorous denials by both Netanyahu and Gantz before signing the unity government agreement last month that it would not cost Israeli taxpayers extra, both appear to have been granted a slew of costly benefits that both of their parties are trying to play down.
An official document sent to Knesset finance committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) on behalf of the prime minister’s office asked committee members to compare the financial terms between Gantz, the replacement prime minister who is scheduled to take over the premiership in 17 months, and the actual prime minister.
The long, detailed document is full of seemingly technical clauses, but there appears to be a clear goal of improving Netanyahu’s financial position, Yediot reported.
The document adds lines of benefits including that the state treasury will bear the “economic expenses of the prime minister and those living with him,” appearing to imply that Netanyahu’s family will get stipends, and a request for a full refund of the taxes Netanyahu paid for the government vehicle he traveled in from 2009 to 2018. Use of government vehicles is considered a taxable benefit.
Another expense is doubling from two to four the number of full-time secretarial positions for the family. Those positions will remain when Gantz takes over in November, 2021.
The list also includes changes to the benefits to Gantz’s position as alternate prime minister including the state paying for operating and maintenance costs of the replacement prime minister’s residence include the option to outsource some of the work. Netanyahu already has an alternate residence in the high-rent area of the coastal city of Caesarea, and in order to duplicate the benefits Gantz was expected to also gain an “alternate residence.”
Both Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White parties issued statements backing away from the apparent high costs to the taxpayers.
Gantz announced in a letter to the committee that he was giving up an alternative residence and covering his family’s economic expenses.
“He [Gantz] has no intention of using any of the sections written in the document, except for the tax deduction for using an armored vehicle,” a Blue and White official said Sunday. “He is already the replacement prime minister and is not moving to any other residence, no state cleaners are entering his home, he is not going to submit receipts for food.”
Gantz, however, collects a healthy army pension as the former career soldier who rose to be chief of staff of the IDF. That is in addition to his salary as Defense Minister.
The Likud issued a statement saying that “Prime Minister Netanyahu does not require any special conditions. The Finance Committee will tax him just like previous prime ministers.”
So how much does it all cost the Israeli taxpayers? An accurate calculation has not yet been done, but the additional charges of having an “alternate prime minister” amounts to several million shekels annually and the real cost will only become clear with time.