Outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that he would have moved into the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem if he had known the disturbance his continued presence at his private Ra’anana home would cause.
Bennett told Channel 13 news in an interview, set to air in full Saturday night, that he made the decision after the Shin Bet security service asked with him to remain in Ra’anana because the official residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street required security upgrades.
However, Bennett said that he “would have taken a sleeping bag, entered Balfour and started to work” had he known issues and outcry that would arise from the decision to stay in his family home.
Bennett has previously said the decision also enabled his children to continue attending their schools in Ra’anana, rather than being uprooted.
Bennett faced criticism from his neighbors and political rivals over remaining in the central city, with local residents frustrated by the security measures around the home required to protect the prime minister.
Furthermore, neighbors had to deal with the noise of regular protests against the prime minister. The prime minister, leader of the right-wing Yamina party, was blasted by former ideological partners over his decision to form a broad unity government with left-wing and right-wing parties, including Ra’am, the party of the Islamic Movement.
Activists have also criticized the premier’s decision, since the state-owned Prime Minister’s Residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street serves as a more legitimate location for protests, where the other residents know to anticipate demonstrations, unlike Bennett’s Ra’anana street, whose inhabitants had no such expectations.
Meanwhile, the security upgrades on Bennett’s home in Ra’anana cost the state tens of millions of shekels, while the work on the official residence has not even begun.
That means that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, set to become caretaker prime minister in the coming days upon the expected dissolution of the Knesset, may also face difficulties moving into the official residence.
Despite wanting to spend most of his time at the residence, Channel 12 news reported Thursday that the Jerusalem home is not suitable to live in and that security preparations are therefore already being made for Lapid’s private house in Tel Aviv.
In May, the High Court of Justice criticized the construction work being carried out without permits or proper planning at Bennet’s home in Ra’anana, and also slammed the lack of progress at Balfour.
The main focus of the Jerusalem renovation is to upgrade the security at the site. The home is also expected to get a major electric, plumbing and interior design overhaul.
The Balfour residence has been uninhabited since former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu left in July, after living there for 12 years.