When he was five, Yair Netanyahu enjoyed a cushion fight with his younger brother Avner on the sofas in the Oval Office at the Clinton White House. According to the White House spokesman briefing the press that day, “the president enjoyed playing with them and gave them a little tour of the Oval Office.”
No one asked the spokesman what the boys were doing in the Oval Office in the first place. It was a given that wherever Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu went, his wife and children had to come too. In fact, this is still very much true today, as the photos of the Netanyahu family enjoying the recent prime ministerial trip to China show.
Unlike any other children of an Israeli prime minister either before or since ‒ do you know the names of Ehud Barak’s daughters or Ehud Olmert’s offspring? ‒ the two Netanyahu boys have constantly been placed in the spotlight by their parents, both at home and abroad. Even though they are now both adults, they are still wheeled out by their parents so that photographers can capture carefully manufactured happy family moments, such as the snowball fight last January at the prime minister’s official residence.
One assumes that the Netanyahu boys have therefore become accustomed to living their lives in the public eye. Yet it is hard not to feel sorry for Yair that his reported relationship with a blonde Norwegian woman studying in Israel, Sandra Leikanger, has suddenly become public knowledge and, given the fact that the young woman is not Jewish, the matter of some intense debate among the religious sector of the population.
Of course, the blame for this affair becoming public lies solely with Yair’s father who, according to the Norwegian press that originally broke the story, couldn’t resist boasting about the relationship to the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, when the two leaders met at last month’s World Economic Forum. (Didn’t they more important matters to discuss, such as Norway’s leading role in the anti-Israel boycott movement?) Indeed when it comes to rushing to tell others about relationships, Netanyahu certainly has form ‒ no one who saw his unprompted and panicked admission of an extra-marital affair on live TV will ever forget it.
SENIOR POLITICIANS meanwhile, such as Shas leader Aryeh Deri should also know better than to wade into a discussion as to the propriety of the prime minister’s son dating a non-Jew. Speaking on a haredi radio station, Deri ridiculously insisted that the relationship was no mere personal matter because Netanyahu is a “symbol of the Jewish people.”
Even if we accept Deri’s bizarre definition of Netanyahu as a symbol of the Jewish people for just a minute, how does that affect the decision of the prime minister’s 23-year-old son to date a blonde Norwegian? Since when did the Netanyahus turn into a hereditary ruling family, in which the actions of any of its members have national repercussions? Netanyahu and his wife Sara may certainly have adapted the trappings of a royal or presidential family, but thankfully Israel is a parliamentary democracy which does not grant individuals an exalted status simply because they happen to be married to, or be the child of whichever politician happens to sit in the prime minister’s chair at any one time.
Yair Netanyahu, unless he decides himself to enter public life, is a private individual who should be allowed to live his life as he chooses, with the friends he selects. His decision to date a non-Jewish woman may upset some members of his family who have conveniently forgotten the fact that his father’s second wife, Fleur, was also a non-Jew who later converted to Judaism, but any such disquiet should be kept within the privacy of the family home.
And the family home does not include the haredi Kikar Hashabbat website, which interviewed Yair’s extremist uncle, who once again failed to restrain himself and ranted that if Yair did not break off the relationship he was “spitting on the graves of his grandmother and grandfather.”
Unfortunately for Yair, the irresponsible behavior of his parents, who for years have paraded him and his brother in front of the media in an attempt to build an image of the Netanyahus as one happy family, as well as his father’s assiduous courting of the extremist religious public, have now backfired and undeservedly placed him and his girlfriend, at the center of a media storm.
Sometimes the prophet Ezekiel’s words “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father” don’t always work out that way.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.