Binyamin Netanyahu has been prominent since his service as Ambassador to the United Nations in the 1980s. I''ve compared him to Barack Obama on account of his fluency. He might also be compared to Richard Nixon (Tricky Dick) due to his reputation as a slippery politician, and his capacity to provoke animosity as well as admiration. There is also that side of him that exceeds Nixon and leaves open a comparison with Obama, namely his skill as a politician capable of surviving animosity, set-back and resurgence. Those traits have kept him alive, falling back, and climbing again for three decades, now as head of what may be capable of becoming the longest-serving Israeli government in recent memory.

What distinguishes Bibi from both Nixon and Obama is Sara. She is wife #3, who Bibi met when she was an El Al flight attendant.

It is difficult to know for sure what goes on in the inner rooms where individuals make the decisions that decide the political fates of countries and individuals. It is at least as difficult to know what goes on in the inner rooms of politicians'' families. In both cases there are stories, which may be passed on--or even invented--by those who wish to advance or scuttle the fortunes of the individuals concerned.

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About Sara we hear:
 
That she is a household harridan who causes the help to quit, bring suit, and tell stories of exploitation, short-changing, and screaming at the slightest departure from a demanding regime.
 
That she has ruled Bibi like she rules the household help, demanding that there be no mention or no visits with his daughter from marriage #1.
 
That she makes life difficult or impossible for the closest aides of her husband, riding herd and exercising a deciding vote on hiring and firing in the Office of the Prime Minister and elsewhere in Israeli government offices.
 
That she resembles or surpasses her husband in demanding the best and most expensive features of housing, vacations, and overseas travel.
 
Bibi posed like an American politician during his first term as prime minister 1996-99. There were photo opportunities with Sara and their two young sons at home and on vacations. The phase did not end well as the Netanyahus were at the center of an official investigation concerned with the financing of a household move when they could no longer call The Prime Minister''s Residence home, including the moving out of some articles that should have remained in the official residence.


Subsequently, Bibi retreated to the more conventional pattern in Israel and other democracies outside of the family-saturated aura of American politics. Sara and the boys have been noticeably less prominent in the current term, but she has not disappeared from media inspection. There have been stories about the household help and her hold on official appointments, as well as her concern for Bibi''s attentions to media, money, or political personalities who happen to be female.

Now Sara has rocketed to public attention thanks to a reporter''s revelation of foreign travels said to be improperly financed and excessively luxurious. The State Comptroller accepted the invitation of opposition parliamentarians to investigate "Bibi-tours," and Sara accepted the invitation for an extensive interview on the most-watched evening news program.

There is some question as to whether such an inquiry is within the purview of the State Comptroller. The traditional concern of such officials is the accuracy of government financial accounts, but Israel''s State Comptrollers have been international leaders in stretching the reach. The law is open-ended, giving the State Comptroller authority to investigate governmental and government-supported entities for financial regularity, program efficiency, and moral integrity.   

Depending on who is commenting, Sara''s appearance on prime time was either an appropriate counter-attack against unrestrained media enemies, or an exposure that should have been avoided. Those readers with a Hebrew capacity and knowledge of the personalities may profit from the details. Others may gather from the sights and sounds an image of Sara that is either positive or otherwise.





What I saw was a woman at peak intensity, concerned to defend herself and her husband against media animosity. She talked extensively and returned several times to the same themes. The experienced interviewer had trouble interrupting the flow with her questions. Sara insisted that only the travels of her and her husband were the subject of inquiry, and not the thousands of others made over the years by Israeli prime ministers, presidents, and other officials. Netanyahu family travels were at the appropriate standard, the financing was proper, and no taxpayer money was involve in her accommodations. The media was vicious and unfair. Reporters paid no attention to her earning a Bachelor''s degree, a Master''s degree with thesis, her certification and work as a psychologist, her visits with children, and with families mourning personal tragedies.

Bibi has filed two libel suits for one million shekels each (equivalent to about US $280,000) against media outlets and the principal reporter involved. He has also compared his travels to those of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. Neither they nor he traveled in cramped and unreliable charter flights, or stayed in youth hostels.

What Bibi did not describe is the gap between such hardships and his demands, including what is said to be a suite with a double bed on flights of more than four hours.

The latest reports about public relations at the pinnacle of the Netanyahu government are not promising.  Ha''aretz (generally not Bibi-friendly) reported Sara''s hosting a gathering to commemorate International Woman''s Day. It occurred three weeks after the Day, and some participants felt it was a cynical effort to counter the stories about "Bibi-tours." Another story on the same page notes that the head of the Government Information Office must travel to the United States with a translator, because his English is not up to the demands of public appearances.

I remember watching Nixon''s speech during the 1952 presidential campaign about the gift of his dog Checkers, and Pat''s Republican cloth coat. Neither Sara nor Bibi''s comments impressed me as being at the same pitch of simplicity and candor. However, I may not have been as sharply critical at 14 as now at a jaded something else.


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