Confess, dear reader. I’ll join you and confess as well. We have all made jokes about Sarah Netanyahu.
They range from her looks to her dress, behavior, influence and probably much else. Everyone, it seems, has declared open season on Sarah Netanyahu.
Then, one day, as I probed my conscience in a kind of sub-conscious “Day of Repentance,” I realized that I had wronged Sarah Netanyahu. I owe her an apology, which I hereby tender. I know that there are court cases pending, but that’s not my business. That’s between the plaintiff, the defendant and the judge.
What, then, made me change my mind? The simple truth is that Mrs. Netanyahu is not an elected official. Sure, I know all about “public figures being fair game.” But let’s face it: The brutal attacks on the lady are just another way of denigrating the gentleman.
Yiddish has a great saying: “She [the mother] criticizes the daughter, and means the daughter-in-law.”
True, Israel is like a family, dysfunctional in our own way. But, dear family, let’s not say Sarah and mean Bibi.
Benjamin Netanyahu has been an appointed or elected official since 1982. Over the years, when I heard Netanyahu’s deep, Philadelphia-inflected voice, speaking in English and more often in Hebrew on Israel radio, instinctively I thought, “I don’t trust this man. He always knows everything about everything.” He never missed an opportunity for a sound bite or an interview.
I pegged him as a climber and a know-it-all.
Now there is no belittling his intelligence. It is high. And there is no underestimating his vanity. It is immense. For those of us who retain a sense of respect for the role and dignity of prime minister, it was painful to see Netanyahu’s recent exploitative performances in Paris at the mass demonstration there and in Jerusalem at the funerals of the four Jews killed in the kosher supermarket attack in France. I was saddened – even angered – at the obvious electioneering. Now he is probably off to Washington, and is happy to spat with the US president, in another election ploy that even rattled Fox News. None of the “hadar” – the dignified bearing proclaimed by his supposed mentors, Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin.
His avidity for self-promotion is seemingly equaled by the pursuit of the so-called “good things” in life.
Newspapermen relate that he never picks up a lunch tab. When he was just an MK between public jobs, it was reported that he earned hefty sums for foreign speaking engagements. Fine. But, as reported at the time, he found a legal way not to pay US or Israeli taxes – and this from an ex-finance minister. Legal is legal. Moral is moral.
Miriam Eshkol told me in the early 1960s that the entertainment allowance granted her by the Prime Minister’s Office was insufficient, and that she was having a hard time coping. Before prime minister Levi Eshkol was photographed he would often borrow my small pocket comb. No private hairdressers and no make-up artists and no household staff. A tiny office staff, permanently overworked. That’s how it was then, when the prime minister knew what it was not to have money, and not to spend public money without due care.
Obviously times have changed. Still, staggering amounts are being spent on food and drink. I do not even bother asking how many people work at Netanyahu’s homes (two in addition to the official residence).
It is too easy to bury truthful statistics under various innocent listings. I do not ask how many people work in his private bureau; too many can be listed in other departments of the catch-all Prime Minister’s Office.
Last week a Jerusalem taxi driver told me that he was abandoning Netanyahu, his long-time favorite, and would be voting for Labor-Hatnua.
“Why?” I asked. His reply was telling.
“Bibi has led us nowhere for a long time. I doubt whether the Left can do any better. But I want to put Herzog to the test.”
When I mentioned the extravagance surrounding the present prime minster, he waved it off.
“That’s what you think is important?” he said, shrugging it off. By then the trip ended and I had exited his polished, off-white Mercedes sedan.
But I asked myself the question again: was it important? Yes, it is. Very much so.
Tradition tells us that “a man’s character can be recognized by his purse, his drink and his anger.” It also teaches us, “Let your fellow-man’s money be as precious unto you as your own.”
Let’s not only vote based on “policies,” which so often yield to the wind or to changed realities. Let us vote as well against those politicians whose values demonstrate internal corrosion, whose behavior resounds with total disrespect for national dignity and for public funds.
Hands off Sarah Netanyahu! She is not up for election. Her husband is.The author has been part of the public scene for decades, and has written extensively in books and articles about Israeli politics and history. In addition to non-fiction, he has authored a novel,
A Tale of Two Avrahams, published by Gefen Jerusalem.