A leading Italian industrialist who reportedly offered former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu the post of Italy’s finance minister was astonished Thursday by the media coverage his lighthearted remarks earned in Israel.
“The comments were made lightheartedly. It was a joke,” close aides to Carlo de Benedetti told Israel’s leading newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth.
Netanyahu told The Israel Bar convention in Tel Aviv Thursday that he was offered to be finance minister in Italy, but chose to stay in Israel.
Netanyahu talked about his term as finance minister, and said that he in fact saved Israel's economy when it was on the verge of collapsing.
"When I was offered the position of finance minister I knew I was going to get hurt. We are now facing the smoke screens of populism sweeping over the state. When I took on the post, Israel was a few weeks away from total collapse like in Argentina, and the Central bank's governor warned that the bank was on the verge of a breakdown," Netanyahu said.
Aides to de Benedetti said the comments were made last October while the industrialist was visiting Israel and coincidently happened upon Netanyahu in one of the corridors of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel.
Israel’s ambassador to Italy Ehud Gol had introduced the men.
“The two spoke for a little while during which Netanyahu presented to de Benedetti some of the fiscal reforms he plans on introducing in Israel. De Benedetti listened to him politely and said: ‘these proposals are interesting. Maybe you should present them to the Italian government,’” sources close to de Benedetti said.
The sources added that de Benedetti is obviously unauthorized to hand out political posts, especially since he is known for his opposition to the current government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Yuval Karni contributed to this report