A group that led the anti-Netanyahu protests over the past year sent a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday threatening to petition the High Court of Justice if opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu does not vacate the official Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem by June 27.
The urgent letter from the Crime Minister group to PMO legal adviser Shlomit Barnea demands that her office set a date, no later than two weeks after the new government was sworn in last Sunday, for when Netanyahu will leave the Balfour Street residence where he has continued to live with his wife Sara and son Yair since being replaced as premier by Naftali Bennett.
The letter was filed a day after former US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley posted a picture with Netanyahu at the official residence where he had hosted her along with Christians United For Israel founder John Hagee on Monday. The photo led to uproar, with critics demanding to know why the opposition chairman was continuing to use the Prime Minister’s Residence for hosting foreign dignitaries.
“We will not allow a [criminal] defendant who lost the election to fortify himself in the residence, turning it into a facility for his private affairs from which he fights the elected government,” the Crime Minister group wrote.
“It is time, after 12 years of alienation and disconnect, for the Netanyahu family understand that the Prime Minister’s Residence is a public resource and kindly vacate the premises within a short period of time, as is the practice in a proper democracy,” the group added.
The letter notes that it took the Netanyahu family six weeks to vacate the residence the previous time the Likud leader was voted out in 1999. While there is no legal stipulation detailing when a replaced premier must leave the official residence, the Crime Minister group argued that there was particularly urgency given the opposition chairman’s decision to host Haley and Hagee on Monday.
Channel 12 reported Monday that the Netanyahus were expected to remain in the Balfour residence for at least several more weeks and possibly an entire month.
Channel 13 cited senior legal officials on Tuesday who sharply criticized Netanyahu for remaining in the residence and holding meetings there.
“Netanyahu is abusing state institutions,” the network quoted the officials as having said.
In any event, Bennett’s family plans to remain in their private home in the central city of Ra’anana for the time being. He is not planning on fully relocating to the official residence due to his children’s schooling arrangements.
On Saturday, the day before the new government was confirmed by the Knesset, Hebrew media reported that Barnea had recommended that the state stop paying the utility bills as long as the Netanyahus remain at the residence.
The legal opinion by Barnea — which requires the approval of the Justice Ministry to be binding — suggested that, effective Sunday, the government stop funding the residence expenses and all chefs and cleaners be immediately fired. The state should also end its funding of cleaning and utilities for the Netanyahus’ private Caesarea residence, which it also currently covers, she wrote.
During his 12 consecutive years in office, Netanyahu lived in the official Jerusalem residence during the week with his wife and two children, while spending weekends in the family’s Caesarea home.
Separately on Tuesday, Likud MK Miri Regev defended Netanyahu who spent just 30 minutes with Bennett at the traditional transfer of power meeting on Monday.
“It’s a ceremonial matter. Not the essence,” Regev told Channel 13. “He relayed what needed to be relayed.”
Regev further justified the short briefing saying Bennett was a “crook” for insisting on the premiership in coalition negotiations despite only having the support of six members of his party.