JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's penchant for scented candles is setting off a stink, with media and politicians accusing him Monday of extravagantly spending public money.
According to an expense document obtained by a civil liberties group, Netanyahu spent $1,700 on scented candles, $23,300 on flower arrangements and $31,600 on gardening at his official residence in Jerusalem, among other costs totaling about $909,000 in 2012. The group obtained the document following a freedom of information request.
The criticism is the latest in a string of similar reproaches against Netanyahu, who is often accused by Israelis of leading a lavish lifestyle while failing to address the economic ills of the middle class.
The report threatens to embarrass Netanyahu, whose government raised taxes and slashed services earlier this year to decrease a swelling budget deficit. Coupled with a rising cost of living, Israelis have for years complained that they struggle to make ends meet. Just two years ago, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest the country's high cost of living.
"When the prime minister presents such inflated and absurd amounts in the expense sheet to the nation, he can't look at his citizens in the eye and swear that there must be cuts to their welfare, health care, security and education," wrote Arye Aplatoni in the Maariv daily.
Netanyahu, who is known to enjoy puffing on cigars and sipping cognac, has been chided for his lifestyle in the past. Earlier this year, a TV station reported that Netanyahu spent $127,000 in public funds for a special sleeping cabin on a five-hour flight to London. Netanyahu was forced to stop buying ice cream from his favorite Jerusalem parlor after an Israeli newspaper discovered his office was spending $3,000 a year for the treat.
In the new expense document, Netanyahu was also shown to spend $11,800 on laundry and $41,600 on catering at his official residence. Expenses for his vacation home in the upscale town of Caesarea, where he and his family stay on weekends, were also disclosed. The water bill there amounted to more than $22,000 and the electrical bill hit $7,390. The Netanyahus have another private apartment in Jerusalem, where spending amounted to just over $1,000.
In a statement, the prime minister's office said the official residence is used throughout the year to host dignitaries and world leaders, as well as meetings with many participants. While media reports said his spending was roughly $300,000 over budget, the statement said this year has seen a decrease in expenses at the official residence by 16 percent.
The news made front pages and was the topic of radio talk shows throughout the day. A cartoon in the Yediot Ahronot daily showed Netanyahu and his wife Sara lighting lemon grass, vanilla and strawberry scented Hanukkah candles.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Netanyahu's continued sprees may violate the trust of his constituents.
"The public will conduct its own introspection and just as they sent him to the prime minister's residence they can also remove him," he told Israel Radio.