Bennett should live in Jerusalem - editorial

Since taking office six months ago, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has neither slept at nor hosted a world leader at the official prime ministerial residence.

protest outside prime minister's residence, January 5, 2018 (photo credit: Courtesy)
protest outside prime minister's residence, January 5, 2018
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Home is where you hang your hat, goes the old adage.

But for the last six months, the place where the prime minister of Israel has hung his hat on a daily basis hasn’t been the country’s capital city of Jerusalem, but some 75 kilometers away in Ra’anana.

The Prime Minister’s Residence, located at the corner of Smolenskin and Balfour streets in the upscale Rehavia neighborhood, has been the official residence of Israeli prime ministers since 1974.

It was vacated in July by its last occupant, Benjamin Netanyahu, after 12 consecutive years of him using it as his official residence and reception facility for meetings and dinners with heads of state.

Readers may recall that back in 2015, as the State Comptroller was preparing to issue a report on an investigation into allegations of excessive spending and misappropriation of state funds at the official Prime Minister’s Residence by Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, the Netanyahus released a video in which Sara gave a tour of the residence with a celebrity interior designer and pointed out how the residence was in serious disrepair. Among the deficiencies shown were crumbling plaster, peeling paint, threadbare rugs and a stained sofa.

 PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett on his way to a cabinet meeting.  (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett on his way to a cabinet meeting. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

When he took office, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was reportedly adamant about the Netanyahus leaving the residence as soon as possible. At the same time, he indicated that he was not expecting to move his family to Jerusalem from their Ra’anana home to avoid uprooting his children from their schools and friends.

The conventional wisdom was that Bennett would use the Balfour residence for weekday evenings, as well as official events, such as hosting foreign dignitaries.

However, that scenario hasn’t been put into action. Since taking office six months ago, Bennett has neither slept at nor hosted a world leader at the official residence.

According to a Channel 12 report, a massive renovation to upgrade both security and cosmetic infrastructure is underway, which could take up to a year to complete. The renovation will include a major electric, plumbing and interior design overhaul.

In a response to a petition to the High Court of Justice filed by Bennett’s neighbors in Ra’anana who are fed up with extra security and inconveniences due to the proximity of the prime minister, as well as demonstrations against him held in the neighborhood, the state said that he doesn’t plan to move to the official Jerusalem residence for at least another six months.

That means that a year into his administration, Bennett will not be living in the official Prime Minister’s Residence.

The issue of Jerusalem is obviously a big deal to this government, like it is with any Israeli government. We shout about Jerusalem being the undivided capital of Israel.

Bennett has gone to the mat against the United States on the reopening of the US Consulate in Jerusalem that would act as the de facto US Embassy for the Palestinians, as it would encroach on Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the whole city.

It therefore makes the argument about Jerusalem’s centrality to Israel’s past, present and future considerably less potent when the prime minister continues living full time in Ra’anana.

It may be symbolic but there is gravitas in symbolism. If the White House was undergoing renovations, the president of the US would not go to sleep every night in Maryland. Accommodations would be made for an alternate residence where the president could entertain and meet foreign dignitaries in the style and manner that are standard requirements when world leaders meet.

Despite their self-serving motives, the Netanyahus’ campaign back in 2015 revealed that the prime minister’s residence was indeed in need of immediate attention. We’re in favor of spending what is required to renovate the building and transforming it into a facility of which all Israelis can be proud.

At the same time, it is incumbent during this interim time for the prime minister to make Jerusalem his home, to sleep there, to hold important tête-à-têtes there and to put into practice for all the world to see that Jerusalem is indeed the capital of Israel.