Denying chauffeur privileges abuse, Netanyahu reveals his son keeps Shabbat

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — A spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied reports that his children get chauffeured on weekends to social events, revealing that his youngest son observes the Shabbat.

The denial came following a report earlier this week by the news site The Marker on the publication of a personnel ad by the Prime Minister’s Office seeking students willing to work on weekends as chauffeurs. The Marker quoted unnamed sources as saying the ad was published after state employees from the state’s chauffeur pool complained about having to drive Yair and Avner Netanyahu around.

The news came amid a criminal probe into several accusation of corruption made against Netanyahu, including with regard to recordings of his conversations with Arnon Mozes, the publisher and owner of the Yedioth Acharonoth daily. In one recording, Netanyahu is heard proposing to limit the circulation of the freely-distributed Yisrael Hayom daily, allegedly in exchange for positive coverage in Yedioth.

On Friday, Netanyahu was questioned for the third time by police on that affair, and on suspicions that he received illicit gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars without declaring them.

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On Wednesday, he said during an address at the Knesset that the launching of the criminal probes were not aimed at serving justice but at replacing him as prime minister.

“This is an unprecedented campaign of persecution, hypocrisy and manipulation,” Netanyahu said. “The objective is to achieve a transition of power by applying media pressure on the attorney general so that he may indict at whatever cost.” Netanyahu has not yet been indicted.

Following the ad Ometz, a nonprofit watchdog on corruption, on Thursday wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office to protest the behavior described in The Marker.

“We fail to understand how the Prime Minister’s Office authorized, and how you authorized such an outrageous and scandalous request to fund with state money the private affairs of the prime minister’s family,” Ometz wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office legal advisor. Haredi media meanwhile criticized the potential employment of Jewish chauffeurs to operate a vehicle on Shabbat, when doing so is forbidden by Jewish Orthodox law except in cases of extreme urgency with life-and-death implications.

But a spokesperson for the Netanyahu family said that neither the prime minister nor his children determine the security arrangements around their transportation needs.

The spokesperson declined to specify what those needs are citing security issues, but added: “The report is false, also because Avner Netanyahu observes the Shabbat, and does not drive on the Shabbat.”

In 2014, Haredi media and politicians criticized Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s first born, for reportedly dating a non-Jewish woman from Norway.