Misplaced frugality

Misplaced frugality

It would be wrong to say that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s profligate ways are the stuff of legend, because there is nothing legendary about the lavish lifestyle he expects the State of Israel to treat him to as its head of government. That’s despite the fact that Israel is running a nearly $12 billion deficit and his government recently raised taxes and cut funding for children’s needs.

According to a report reluctantly released in May, Mr. Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, spent more than $1.5 million on their two residences – the official one in Jerusalem and their private home in Caesarea in 2012. The amount included, among other things, about $19,500 for hairdressing and makeup, and $360,000 for “cleaning and maintenance.” It also included $2,800 for a steady supply of pistachio and vanilla ice cream from Mr. Netanyahu’s favorite parlor, Metudela, which is near his official residence in Jerusalem. That expenditure belatedly came off of this year’s budget, but only after an Israeli economic newspaper reported on it.

When he flew to London in April for the funeral of the late former prime minister Lady Margaret Thatcher, a journey of less than five hours, Mr. Netanyahu nevertheless felt the need to install a bedroom with a double bed on the chartered plane the government hired – at an added cost of $141,000. (He could have saved money by booking the Royal Suite at London’s Lanesborough Hotel for $17,600 a night, including 24-hour butler’s service and a view of the gardens of Buckingham Palace.)

Yet when it came to joining other world leaders at Tuesday’s memorial service for Nelson Mandela, one of “the greatest figures of our time,” according to Mr. Netanyahu, he nevertheless announced that he would not go – because it cost too much.

To be sure, Mr. Mandela was no supporter of Israel’s presence on the west bank (“our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” he told a South African audience in 1997), but he also recognized that Israel could not risk the security of its people. “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel within secure borders,” he said during his 1999 visit to the Jewish state.

In “Long Walk to Freedom,” his autobiography, he wrote that Jews are “more broad-minded than most whites on issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice.”

It is no wonder, then, that South Africa’s Jewish community held its own memorial service on Sunday night, or that Rabbi Norman Bernhard, who has been out of public view for many years because of serious illness, rose from his sickbed to attend.

It is no wonder that South Africa’s chief rabbi, Warren Goldstein, delivered the opening prayer at Tuesday’s official memorial service. Likening the late South African leader to the biblical Joseph, who also rose from prison to lead a nation, Rabbi Goldstein said, “Nelson Mandela spoke to our hearts. He brought us comfort. And through his mighty power of forgiveness he sustained us, and liberated our country from the pit of prejudice and injustice, unleashing the awesome generosity of spirit of millions of South Africans.”

It is no wonder, as well, that South African Jews feel a profound sense of disappointment and even some anger at Mr. Netanyahu’s decision.

In many ways, Israel’s prime minister let an important opportunity slip by when he decided that like ice cream from Metudela, Mr. Mandela’s memorial service was one expense too many.