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Israel

Ra’anana residents ponder the prime minister next door

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What’s it like living a few streets away from the prime minister of Israel?

According to Israeli media, the residents of Ra’anana are up in arms that the newly-elected head of state, Naftali Bennett, is refusing to move to the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem. This is because he doesn’t want to uproot his children. But some of the many South African olim living in the area say they are only too happy to have him as their neighbour.

“I have been living in Ra’anana for the past six and a half years with my family. We aren’t the direct neighbour of Naftali Bennett and his family – we live around the corner from them, and we’ve had a bit of social interaction with them,” says Saul Kaplan, originally from Cape Town. “Our kids are all at the same schools. Very often I see him fetching his kids or doing school duties such as opening the doors for parents when they drop kids off. He’s a very warm and friendly person, and so is his wife, Gilat, and their kids are very sweet.”

One Israeli newspaper reported a resident saying that Bennett is “basically holding thousands of people hostage” by staying in Ra’anana, and Kaplan says it does have an impact on the lives of residents. “But I think he’s also putting out a really powerful message. He’s saying, ‘Yes, I’m the prime minister, but why do my kids need to be uprooted from their lives and taken out of their comfort zone and away from their friends and schools? Let them continue as normally as possible.’ These children don’t have the easiest life with all the security.”

Kaplan says that although the media has reported residents responding with “fury” to Bennett’s decision, “there are many in Ra’anana who are very supportive of his choice to stay because essentially, it’s for his family. For him personally, it’s a nightmare. He has to drive an hour in the traffic every single morning and night. If he lived in Jerusalem, he would roll out of bed into work every day, and his life would be a lot more comfortable.

“So, he’s making a big sacrifice for his kids. And yes, we’re going to have to make a sacrifice,” says Kaplan. “That sacrifice is that one road [where he lives], which is a road of residences, has now been blocked. So yes, it’s quicker for me to take my children to school via that road, but I’m going to take the road next to it which takes a few minutes longer.”

Neill Snape, who made aliyah from Cape Town two months ago, says, “We have the ‘pleasure’ of living about 200m from Naftali Bennett. On Sunday morning, I heard sirens and there was a blue light brigade, so I felt like I was back in South Africa. Today [Monday 21 June], there are protests outside Bennett’s house. It’s about 15 very noisy Likudniks making the whole neighbourhood unhappy. Security has blocked off the road and taken over a little public open space.

“Over the years of visiting Ra’anana, I have on many occasions walked past the Bennett home,” he says. “Sometimes there has been hectic security and sometimes nothing. But one never seems to see any movement or people in the house.”

Now that Bennett is prime minister, Snape says, “Who knows what’s going to happen, but I really hope that the situation doesn’t develop like the protests that happened outside Bibi’s place! After the protests that happened after Shabbat, I’m sure Bibi’s Jerusalem neighbours will be happy that he is going, no matter their political leanings.”

He’s referring to the year-long protests outside former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s house in Balfour Street, Jerusalem, in which thousands turned up every Saturday night bearing signs, chanting, beating pots and drums, and blowing horns.

“If it gets bad, I’m going to protest and ask the rosh hamemshala [prime minster] to lech [go] to the official residence and leave us in peace,” he says, referring to the many protesters who called for Netanyahu to lech.

“But, hey, what an exciting time to be olim! Also, we understand why he wants to live in Ra’anana and not disrupt his family life and children’s schooling,” says Snape. “For us, that shows great values in that he’s not prepared to ‘sacrifice’ his family – well, we hope so. For that, we will be prepared to put up with a bit of noise!”

In a discussion on Facebook, one South African oleh said, “I live in Ra’anana, near Bennett’s house. All our streets nearby are already affected by traffic jams. I work in the medical field and have had to change all my patient bookings because of this.”

However another South African oleh said, “We should be thanking him for taking on such an enormous role and putting his entire life on the line for his country. What an honour it is to live amongst the new leader of the Jewish people!”

Says Kaplan, “For us as residents who live very nearby, if you look at the bigger picture, he’s really making a huge effort for the country bringing this unity government together and I think we can find many things to complain about.

“This is something most Ra’anana residents aren’t going to feel much. Yes, the houses next to him [may be affected], but they’ve also got unbelievable added security that they’ve never had before. He doesn’t block too many houses from the one side. The other side, there’s a small block that some people need to go through, but it’s really minor,” he says. “It’s quite special that we have a prime minister living around the corner from us. It’s quite historic. It will cause a bit of chaos, but if you look at the bigger picture, most of the people I’ve spoken to – neighbours, friends, who all live within a few hundred metres of him – are very supportive of his decision, and we’ll manage. I’m a big supporter of him staying in Ra’anana.”

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