Amid speculation that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is working hard to keep Bayit HaYehudi out of the coalition, party leader Naftali Bennett told the media “I have nothing against Mrs. Sara Netanyahu. She is a good woman.”
Speaking to Galei Tzahal (Army Radio) on Sunday morning 1 Rosh Chodesh Adar 5773, Bennett tried to explain his position and the reported tensions stemming back to his tenure as the prime minister’s bureau chief. He apologized for his ill colored joke that “Sara and Bibi were in the same anti-terror course”, admitting it was simply in bad taste and it would have been best not said. “If I wish to express criticism regarding the policies of Mr. Netanyahu he is the address, not Mrs. Netanyahu”. Bennett then went on to shower the prime minister’s wife with praise.
So just what is the source of the tension between Bennett and the Netanyahu household? The dispute involved Bennett and party colleague Ayelet Shaked and the prime minister and his wife.
On March 10, 2008 Yediot Achronot published a story surrounding the surprise resignations of two officials in the Netanyahu administration, Bureau Chief Naftali Bennett and Bureau Manager Ayelet Shaked. It appears, at least according to the Yediot report; the prime minister’s budget did not totally cover their salaries so Mr. Netanyahu opted to pay out of pocket to keep them on board. He did not tell Mrs. Netanyahu however.
The prime minister opted to keep many advisors, more than his budget permitted, so he was compelled to hire them at his own expense, and in at least one case, without paying on the books with a pay stub as required by law. This was also the case regarding the salary of Odelya Karmon, who was responsible for maintaining contact between the PM’s Bureau and the outside world.
Mrs. Netanyahu was unaware of the arrangement and when she learned of this from a bank official she did not take it well to put it mildly. In short, according to the report, there was an explosion that rocked the relationship between the prime minister and the senior staff members.
The prime minister was instructed to stop paying Karmon and to demand the money back. Karmon resigned as a result. Back in December 2006 a sensitive meeting took place between Netanyahu and his two advisors, Bennett and Shaked. The meeting was held in Tel Aviv. According to witnesses quoted by Yediot, Mrs. Netanyahu laced into them, Bennett and Shaked, for agreeing to accept private money from the prime minister for their services. She announced the deal was off and that they would be required to return the funds they received to the family. “Sara Netanyahu invited them to a meeting and let them have it in front of Bibi” Yediot reported. Bibi sat at the meeting visibly uncomfortable.
Bennett and Shaked refused to respond publically but they never denied the findings. Mr. Netanyahu insisted that everything was above board and called on the media to leave his wife and family out of the public spotlight.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)