Cooking the books? Not quite

Cooking the books? Not quite, Israel Hayom, Akiva Bigman, September 12, 2017

Regardless, the real story is this: after a litany of allegations — the misuse of patio furniture, the buying of candles, the mishandling of deposits for bottles, the improper use of a caregiver for Sara Netanyahu’s father, and the controversial use of services by an electrician and catering staff — we now finally have a real legal debate raging in Israel, dealing with our very essence as a nation: Can a cleaning lady that occasionally prepares a Shabbat dinner be considered a cook for legal purposes?

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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit recently said he prepared a draft indictment against Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But his announcement misses the point: The allegations that expense reports were falsified at the Prime Minister’s Residence are of no relevance to her conduct, legally speaking. There is no way of proving that she was involved in any way, shape or form in the accounting practices at the residence. If someone cooked the books, it wasn’t her. It would be even harder to prove that she was aware of any such action.

So what’s left? The only thing that can conceivably be directly attributed to Sara Netanyahu is that she ordered meals from restaurants for the Prime Minister’s Residence despite the fact that the residence employed a full-time cook — ostensibly in violation of regulations. “Netanyahu created the false impression that the Prime Minister’s Residence had no cook even though cooks were employed the entire time,” Mendelblit wrote last Friday.

But the State Comptroller’s Office says something else. According to a report on the period in question, only in July 2013 did the CEO at the residence ask the civil service commissioner for an official kitchen employee, and this request was granted a month later. This means that throughout most of the period in question, there was no cook employed there and the position did not even exist. So what’s all the fuss about? Well, it turns out that although there was no official employee, one of the cleaning ladies did some occasional cooking.

“A member of the cleaning staff at the residence served as a cook from March 2009 until October 2011,” Mendelblit wrote. Such a statement seems to be quite a stretch. Occasional cooking by an unprofessional employee cannot properly oversee the preparation of the meals at the official residence, both in quantity or in quality.

And regardless, that specific worker carried out no cooking beyond October 2011. The expenses reported for takeaway food show as much: In 2010, a year that saw a cleaning lady cook essentially all the time, some NIS 70,000 ($19,800) were reported. In 2011, the expenses rose to NIS 90,000 ($25,547). In 2012, when she no longer cooked, the expenses spiked to NIS 158,000 ($44, 852). And after the official cook was hired in 2013, the expenses dropped dramatically to NIS 64,000 ($18,100).

The sums mean that the average monthly payments on takeaway food were between NIS 6,000 and NIS 13,000 ($1,700 to $3,684). This is equivalent to about NIS 200 per day ($56), when there was a cook, to NIS 400 ($113) per day when there was no cook. Considering that the official residence includes the prime minister, his wife and their two sons, such sums are not unreasonable.

Contrary to the media’s false narrative suggesting that the indictment is a fait accompli, it is too early to tell whether Netanyahu will actually be indicted. She has the right to a pre-indictment hearing, and she may very well succeed in dissuading the attorney general from going ahead with the indictment or at least make him rethink the move.

Regardless, the real story is this: after a litany of allegations — the misuse of patio furniture, the buying of candles, the mishandling of deposits for bottles, the improper use of a caregiver for Sara Netanyahu’s father, and the controversial use of services by an electrician and catering staff — we now finally have a real legal debate raging in Israel, dealing with our very essence as a nation: Can a cleaning lady that occasionally prepares a Shabbat dinner be considered a cook for legal purposes?

Explore posts in the same categories: Indictment, Insanity, Sara Netanyahu

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