Wrong address

Netanyahu should scrap preparations for the grandiose new prime ministerial residence.

new prime minister residence 248.88 cour (photo credit: Courtesy )
new prime minister residence 248.88 cour
(photo credit: Courtesy )
The global credit crunch has already cost record numbers of Israelis their livelihoods. Economic experts are unanimous: The current year will bring hard times to many and will, in all likelihood, demand sacrifices from us all. It's precisely at times such as these that appearances count, that higher-ups are required to evince restraint and sensitivity. Even the mere semblance of social solidarity matters more than ever. Yet, incongruously, the government has opted to forge ahead with the construction of a grandiose new residence for the prime minister. What's envisioned is extravagantly out-of-scale vis-à-vis anything this country has thus far known. Such ostentation would probably be superfluous at any time, even during more auspicious socioeconomic circumstances. Yet at this moment of financial crisis, plans for a pretentious structure - of the sort that few democracies boast but which is common in Third World autocracies - are about as flagrant an example of demonstrably misplaced priorities as could be imagined. They convey to the public the message that our leaders are even more disconnected from ordinary workaday reality than hitherto suspected. Whenever Binyamin Netanyahu manages to put a new government together, therefore, an early order of business ought to be to scrap preparations for this profligate project. Such a step could go some way toward restoring a modicum of confidence in the integrity of our elected representatives. THE LAST act of business of the Olmert cabinet before the election was to allocate a whopping NIS 650 million for the construction of a gaudy, surreal, spaceship-like edifice between the Foreign Ministry and the National Insurance Institute buildings in Jerusalem. Earthmovers have already dug out the foundations, but it's not too late to abandon the entire scheme, or to reduce it to more modest proportions. The fact that earmarking such exorbitant sums for so outlandish a showpiece won an overwhelming ministerial majority boggles the mind. Only four ministers opposed the proposal. Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On rightly cautioned that it would come at the expense of worthier causes. Education Minister Yuli Tamir correctly noted that NIS 650m. would cover the renovation of all of the country's schools. Gideon Ezra and Ya'acov Edri weighed in with objections, too. Nobody else did. What has served as the PM's residence since 1974 is a Bauhaus-style villa constructed in the 1930s in the Talbiyeh neighborhood by architect Richard Kaufmann. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with it, even though it snarls traffic, bothers the neighbors and constitutes a security headache. But if relocating the residence is desirable, there are innumerable more pressing undertakings on which such sums could be more usefully spent at a time of rising hardship and deepening recession. And even if a new residence is deemed a national priority that overrules all other considerations, surely a more modest structure - architecturally less lavish and bizarre, and financially less draining - could be designed. The proposed residence would be a garish palace, and a total departure from Israel's folksy traditions. Encompassing both the premier's residence and offices, the complex would feature hundreds of rooms, large conference facilities and auditoriums, with the living quarters alone spreading over 1,000 square meters. What promises to be Israel's most superfluous white elephant would make the White House look like a relic and 10 Downing Street like a slum. Is this a genuine national priority? Or is governmental approval for architect Ram Carmi's over-the-top blueprint a testament to grossly distorted values? Is Israel a superpower, economically stable and robust, the richest nation on earth? Of course not. So why does it intend to build a complex that would embarrass even such a nation? Do our hospitals and schools have all the funds they need? Have we desalinated all the water we can use? Are affordable medicines available to all? The list of vital unfulfilled needs is endless. This intended structure is not on it. Before this is dismissed as populist carping, let's remember that the earmarked NIS 650m. is taxpayers' money. It's the citizens' elementary right to demand of their elected representatives that they apportion our collective resources sensibly and equitably, and that they not be impervious to our wishes. A rethink is required.