The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has encountered severe turbulence after it emerged that he ordered a bed to be installed on a plane that carried him and his wife, Sara, to Baroness Thatcher’s funeral in London last month – at a cost of $127,000 (£83,000).
The revelation comes amid growing resentment over an austerity budget proposed by the finance minister Yair Lapid, a former TV personality who won popular support in January’s election by promising to champion Israel’s financially squeezed middle class. Up to 15,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities in an echo of the massive social justice protests that swept the country two years ago.
Following an outcry over the cost of installing a “rest chamber” on the chartered El Al flight, Netanyahu’s office said that henceforth no sleeping cabins would be provided on short-haul flights to Europe.
Initially, officials defended the move – disclosed by Israel’s Channel 10 on Friday evening – in a statement that was immediately mocked by commentators for its detailed account of Netanyahu’s schedule.
The statement said: “The prime minister took off for London on the night after Independence Day, in the course of which he attended a reception for outstanding soldiers at the presidential residence, the World Bible Quiz, a reception for diplomatic personnel in Israel and the Israel prize ceremony. The flight was booked for midnight after a day full of events, and afterwards the prime minister was to represent the state of Israel at a number of official international events, including meetings with the prime ministers of Canada and Britain. It is acceptable for the prime minister of Israel to be able to rest at night between two packed days as those.”
El Al, Israel’s national airline, was paid $427,000 for the charter flight, including the cost of the chamber. A smaller plane, without sleeping quarters, would have cost $300,000, according to Israeli media reports.
Channel 10 pointed out that the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, who will be 90 next month, spent an 11-hour flight to South Korea seated in business class.
Read more at The Guardian.