A long time ago, O best beloved, I lived around the corner from Balfour Street, the official residence of the Israeli prime minister. In my day, that was Yitzhak Rabin, who had beaten Yitzhak Shamir in the election.
Now you could say many things about Shamir – and people often did – but the fiery right-winger had a healthy respect for the rule of law in Israel and, as such, I don’t recall a single moment of hesitation or suggestion that the Shamirs should not vacate Balfour Street.
After Rabin’s assassination in 1995, Shimon Peres moved briefly into the residence and was beaten in the 1996 elections by Benjamin Netanyahu. I am sure you will see where this is going. Peres moved out of Balfour Street in short order, Bibi and his family moved in… and even with a brief blip for the premierships of Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, it has begun to look like the Netanyahu family regarded Balfour Street as their own private fiefdom.
It is worth pointing out that Netanyahu owns three other properties, two in Jerusalem and one in Caesaria. And yet the Israeli public have been treated to the shameful situation of the former premier and his family veritably squatting in Balfour Street, which, should it need repeating, is the official prime ministerial residence and thus paid for by Israeli taxes.
Naftali Bennett assumed office as prime minister three weeks ago and in that time the Netanyahus have made no move to leave Balfour Street. Indeed, in the week after Bennett took office, Bibi had the chutzpah to receive at the residence the former American ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, and the Christian evangelist Pastor John Hagee, as though nothing had changed.
It’s hard to tell how much of this petulant and churlish response is Bibi’s own, and how much is directed by his wife Sara, whose many unlovely behavioural issues have been well documented over the years. And the Netanyahus’ apparent determination to stay in Balfour Street has been unwittingly supported by Bennett’s announcement that, with four children in school in Ra’anana, he was not minded to move into the residence and would only want to use it for official receptions.
So Bennett cut Bibi far too much slack, and appears to have forgotten what Bibi generally does when you give him an inch. Even now, Bennett has been generous in giving Bibi a cut-off date of 10 July to be out of Balfour Street, with the proviso that “no official meetings will be held at the residence” until Sunday, 11 July.
It’s honestly far more than Bibi deserves. He has conducted himself gracelessly and meanly throughout this entire process, apparently modelling himself on his hero Trump, about who won the election or who could form a government.
Social media, as ever, has been alive with suggestions as to how to get the Netanyahus out of Balfour Street, ranging from “cutting off the water and electricity” to “playing very loud music outside” at unpleasant hours of
When Rabin was prime minister, parts of the Israeli public, no respecter of persons, was just as vocal in opposition to the Balfour Street resident. There was a demonstration every Saturday night, and I, a frustrated local resident, marched up to a local cop putting up the crash barriers, to complain that these repeated demos made life impossible for the neighbours.
The huge cop looked at me. “Let me give you some advice,” he offered. “Yes?” I said, eager for some way out of the weekly aggravation. He smiled, avuncular. “Don’t get so excited.”