The current discussion of expensive cigars and champagne is not new. Our prime minister’s life style is known to everyone in Israel and abroad. Perhaps he is even admired for his insatiable appetite for power and pleasures.
This is a post which I published here two years ago (in February 2015). In light of the new discoveries it seems a bit naive, but since it talks about a provincial wish of certain Israelis to be as rich and important as their peers in the United States, I believe it is still relevant.
When we were graduate students at a State University in the Midwest, we had a visitor from Israel, a classmate of my husband from his undergraduate years at the Technion. At night we sat around and talked about graduate school. At one point the friend argued that if it wasn’t a PhD program in an Ivy League University, it wasn’t worth the trouble of crossing the Atlantic Ocean. I remember how surprised I was at that statement. The Technion was indeed a fine institute in Israeli standards, but I had never noticed that the students there were better than their counterparts at the State University where we studied.
Yet, apparently, quite a few graduate students at the Technion believed that they deserved only the best: nothing else would do.
I was reminded of that attitude when I heard about the exorbitant expenses at the home of our Israeli Prime Minister.
In spite of their noble comportment, our first couple, Benjamin and Sarah Netanyahu, are not aristocrats. Benjamin Netanyahu was born in 1949, and like the rest of Israeli babies at that time, he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. 1949 to 1951 were the years of austerity when to deal with the shortages, the Israeli government instituted a system of rationing. To buy most rationed items, each person had to register at chosen shops, and was provided with a ration book. The shopkeepers were supplied with enough food for registered customers.
Those were difficult years and even small children did not have enough food. In 1958, by the time Sarah Netanyahu was born, the economic situation in Israel had improved and most of the restrictions were eased. But still at that time in Israel, it was a struggle for parents to provide for their families and hardly anyone was well-off.
Although as Sabres (born in Israel) Benjamin and Sarah were more privileged and better off than the children who immigrated to Israel after the war from the diaspora, it seems that both of them had never got over the hard years of rationing. Thus, they spend their adult days feeding their unsatiated inner child with all types of conspicuous consumption at our expense.
Today in Israel, more than 60 years after the end of rationing, the rich are richer and the poor are poorer. In between the middle classes are far from being comfortable. Paradoxically, old men, the same age as Benjamin Netanyahu, and old women, four years older than Sarah Netanyahu, get only 2000 NIS as their social security allowance. Sarah and Benjamin, each, spend double that amount on take-out food from restaurants.
Like the young people at the Technion back in the 1980s, our prime minister and his wife are confused. They don’t understand that wanting only the best does not mean a strive for excellence. On the contrary, their snobbish and parochial conduct is an embarrassment for all of us.
We often hear about regimes, mostly in the third world, where the leaders rob their poor nations, and become multi-millionaires leading extravagant lifestyles.
I hope Israel is not heading that way.