There were more complaints last weekend about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s spending on his official residence in Jerusalem and private home in Caesarea.
Without commenting directly on the expense budget, it is worth noting that the official residence of Israel’s prime ministers is not very impressive. Compared to the White House, 10 Downing Street, the Elysee Palace, or the official homes of Middle Eastern leaders, the home at 9 Smolenskin Street is small, with very limited space for official meetings. I’ve attended many dinners in that house, and while there is something intimate about cramming small delegations into the dining or living rooms, the limits on space are unfortunate. Israel’s president has a much more elegant and larger residence, despite the fact that the president’s role is far less important.
The same problem exists in Washington, where Israel’s ambassador has a very small official residence. It is a standard suburban type house, about 60 years old, with too many problems. The lot is small so privacy and security are challenged. There is no decent sized room for receptions, including for the major Jewish holy days and Israel’s Independence Day. The house is on a hilly lot so that wheelchair access is impossible. It is not near any synagogue. Compared to the residences of very many ambassadors--not just the palatial residence of the British, French, Italian, Peruvian, Indian, Kuwaiti, and several other envoys--the home of Israel’s ambassador in the world capital most important to it is substandard. I’ve visited Israeli ambassadorial residences in several other cities and Washington seems to me to be among the worst.
Now, Israel has an egalitarian history and presumably the idea of palatial residences for officials grates against many citizens. That’s understandable, but it is wrong. The idea is not to give officials gorgeous master bedrooms, but to have large and useful reception rooms, gardens where parties, dinners, and receptions can take place, buildings that are accessible, and privacy for diplomatic meetings. Israel should consider building new residences for the prime minister and ambassador to the United States. There are no doubt budgetary problems, but surely in the case of Washington it would be simple enough to find donations for this purpose from the American Jewish community. Once upon a time Israel was a poor country, but it is no longer. It’s an international power house in technology and per capita income and GDP are now among the highest in the world. Having impressive and useful official residences should be considered fitting and appropriate. It’s not 1948 any more.