The Jerusalem Post
Bennett must permanently move to Balfour residence
Symbols of office confer legitimacy and Bennett needs to establish his credentials as prime minister
Compared to other prime ministerial residences around the world – 10 Downing Street in London, Chigi Palace in Rome, or the Lodge in Canberra – the prime minister’s official residence on the corner of Balfour Street in Jerusalem isn’t much.
It’s neither storied nor palatial. It’s nondescript on the outside and rather gloomy and drab inside. Yet it’s ours, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett needs to move there immediately after former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu moves out, expected to be by July 10.
Bennett has indicated that he intends to keep using his primary residence in Ra’anana, and only conducting business meetings and spending Shabbat in the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. This would be the opposite of what Netanyahu did while in office: spend weekdays at Balfour, and weekends at his home in Caesarea.
The reason given for Bennett’s desire not to make the home on Balfour his primary residence was that he does not want to uproot his four children, aged 9-16, taking them out of their school frameworks and away from their friends.
Though a noble parental sentiment, it is not a relevant consideration in this case. It would be like former US president Donald Trump opting to keep living in New York after he became president in 2016 because his apartment in Manhattan was nicer than the White House, and he didn’t want to pull his son Barron out of school.
Parents relocate to new jobs all the time. Bennett’s own parents moved back and forth from Israel to North America three times when he was a child.
Had Bennett not wanted to relocate, he probably should not have applied for his current job. When one applies for a job whose office is in another city, one takes into consideration the possibility of having to move, and needs to factor the toll that will take on one’s family into the decision, whether or not to go for the job in the first place.
Why is it so important that Bennett moves into the house on 9 Smolenskin Street, on the corner of Balfour? For the same reason Netanyahu needs to vacate – it is a symbol. It is a symbol of the office of the prime minister, and symbols are important.
Symbols of office confer legitimacy, and Bennett needs to establish his legitimacy as this country’s prime minister. This is especially true in his case for several reasons.
First, since Bennett is due to “rotate” positions with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in two years, an impression could take root that he is not the “real” prime minister carrying all the prime ministerial authorities. Moving into the official residence would help put that notion to rest.
Second, moving into the residence is important because Bennett commands the allegiance of only six seats in this disparate 61-seat coalition, and many – both in the coalition and the opposition – are questioning his very legitimacy to hold the office with so little support.
Within the coalition there are those in parties with more or the same number of seats who are still wondering how it is that Bennett, and not they, finagled his way into being prime minister.
And among the opposition, some argue – like Netanyahu himself – that Bennett has no legitimate claim on the premiership because he got the job by breaking campaign promises not to join a government led by Lapid, “neither in rotation nor mutation.”
Netanyahu has been reticent in mouthing the combination of words “Prime Minister Bennett,” and he himself was referred to as prime minister in an invitation to the members of the opposition to meet this week.
Shas faction head MK Michael Malkieli, in a KAN Bet interview on Tuesday, referred to Bennett as “the country’s swindler.”
The interviewer, Ron Binyamini, was jolted by this characterization.
“Wait a second,” he said. “You just called him ‘that swindler,’ and not for the first time. You called him in the past ‘the swindler from Ra’anana,’ and ‘that man.” Is it difficult for you to utter the words, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett?”
(Netanyahu himself was belittled similarly by political opponents who referred to him over the last few years not as Prime Minister Netanyahu, but rather “the accused of crimes from Balfour Street”).
Or take this tweet on Wednesday from Netanyahu’s son, Yair.
“There is no prime minister in Israel,” he wrote. “Bennett doesn’t even have the authority of a cabinet secretary.”
Yair Netanyahu then continued with a script that several other Bennett critics have been using over the last couple of weeks, saying that the “real” prime minister – the one who is really calling the shots – is either Lapid or coalition partner Mansour Abbas, the head of the United Arab List (Ra’am).
To take steps to prevent this impression from gaining traction, Bennett needs all the trappings that go with his new job, all the bells and whistles, in order to chisel into everyone’s mind the notion that after 12 years of Netanyahu, one prime minister has left office, and another has firmly taken his place.
Sometimes it is not enough merely to be the prime minister, one must appear prime ministerial – and an important way to do that in this country is to live in the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem. Bennett should do that as soon as possible.