High Court slams state’s handling of construction at PM’s residences

Judges criticize building without permits or permission by the state at Bennett’s private Ra’anana home and decry lack of progress in renovating official residence in Jerusalem

Unfinished construction of one of the three metal wall roadblocks encircling Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's Ra'anana home, January 13, 2022. (Carrie Keller-Lynn/Times of Israel)
Unfinished construction of one of the three metal wall roadblocks encircling Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's Ra'anana home, January 13, 2022. (Carrie Keller-Lynn/Times of Israel)

The High Court of Justice on Wednesday criticized the state’s conduct regarding construction work being carried out at the Prime Minister’s private residence in Ra’anana and the official residence in Jerusalem, saying it painted a “bleak picture.”

The judges were particularly critical of the work being done at Bennett’s Ra’anana home, saying that it was being carried out by the state without proper planning and permits.

“It’s difficult to justify construction without permits by the state at the residence,” Judge Yosef Elron wrote.

The judges also slammed the lack of progress in renovating the official residence in Jerusalem, months after the work was supposed to have begun.

In both cases, the judges said they “had the worrisome impression that things were being done without a clear guiding hand and in a murky fashion.”

The judges were ruling on a petition brought by the Ra’anana municipality and some of Bennett’s neighbors who complained that police were not enforcing rules regarding limits to demonstrations around Bennett’s home, and asked that the court halt construction work and lift traffic restrictions in the vicinity of Bennett’s house.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visits the official Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on December 1, 2021. (GPO)

Judge Noam Solberg ruled that, due to the changing nature of the demonstrations — which at the time of the petition’s filing were held three times a week, but now only are held once a week on a Saturday night — there was no justification for the court to interfere in the matter.

Emphasizing the importance of improvements at the official residence in Jerusalem, judges complained that such work had not even begun since the hearing of the last petition and noted that the prime minister could not move to Balfour Street “even if he wants to.”

The judges declined to rule on whether the house in Ra’anana could be designated as a private residence or an official residence, deeming the question irrelevant to the procedure.

Demonstrators outside the home of Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, at the time still in negotiations to form a government, in Ra’anana, on June 4, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Despite judges refusing to take action on the demonstrations, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, Uriel Hur Nizari, praised the High Court.  “Although they could have ignored the serious acts of the prime minister and his entourage, the Supreme Court has chosen the right path.”

“Even though this was not the subject of the petition and a follow-up petition will be submitted in the following days, the judges, in their harsh criticism and courage, came out as a buffer against the misconduct of the prime minister and his entourage,” he added.

A group of Israelis walk around the vacant Prime Minister’s Residence, Jerusalem, December 24, 2021 (David Horovitz / Times of Israel)

In a contentious decision, Bennett has continued to live exclusively in his private home in Ra’anana, rather than moving to the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood, since taking office last June. Bennett explained that this enabled his children to continue attending their schools in Ra’anana, rather than being uprooted.

Meanwhile, the Shin Bet security service has ordered renovations to the Jerusalem residence, including overdue improvements to the official Jerusalem residence’s security systems.

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