There has been another judicial blow at Sara. A maintenance man, employed by a manpower contractor, has won more than ₪100,000 (about $25,000) in compensation for insulting working conditions and violations of wage and hour regulations while working in the Prime Minister's residence. The judge specified the screaming of the First Lady as part of the intolerable treatment that the worker suffered.
A few days ago police officials announced that they had completed more than a year's investigation into the management of the Prime Minister's residence, and were recommending to the State Prosecutor the opening of criminal charges against Sara Netanyahu. Among the details specified by the police and heard over the years
- Moving new furniture, paid for by the government, from the official residence to a private residence and putting old personal furniture in the official residence;
- Charging the government for the nursing care of Sara's aged father;
- Ordering in catered meals, charged to the government, for family events instead of using the employed kitchen staff
- Demanding that a maintenance person based in Jerusalem travel to the family residence in Caesarea, about 70 miles away, on weekends as well as on Yom Kippur, a day when few israelis travel..
- Dumping plates, silverware, and tablecloth on the floor on account of perceiving dust on a setting
- Creating an atmosphere of fright, as well as violating labor laws by demanding extraordinary overtime
In a separate action, a court ruled against Mrs Netanyahu submitting an appeal about a decision granting compensation to the former manager of the official residence, who sued the government for intolerable working conditions. In the decision on that case, the judge singled out Sara for screaming and other improper behavior. The judge rejected Sara's appeal of the judgement on the grounds that the case had not been brought against her, but against the Prime Minister's official residence.
A week ago, the State Comptroller issued a long delayed report about "Bibitours," concerned with double billing international travel expenses for the Prime Minister, as well as Sara, and their two sons.
In this small and intimate country, one doesn't have to rely on the media or official reports to know what goes on in high places. Among the stories from insiders was a student who described Sara's short fuse, and her inclination to scream, to explain resignation from a part-time job that was meant to pay for university tuition.
Also circulating is a story that Sara exploded against Bibi while the couple were being driven in the official vehicle on a major highway, forcing the car to be halted, and the transfer of the Prime Minister to another car in the motorcade.
The Prime Minister has generally avoided public comment about Sara, but he denied this story, and brought suit against a journalist who posted it on Facebook. .
Israel's media, with one prominent exception, has headlined Sara's problems. TV and radio news programs have also provided opportunity for Netanyahu family attorneys to assert that it is all a media campaign against the Prime Minister, which has caused the country's judges to issue unfair rulings. Family advocates cherry picked individual incidents, and asked if it was fair to put the Prime Minister's wife on trial for such trivialities. Israel Hayom, nicknamed Bibipress, headlined a politically-motivated campaign against the Prime Minister and his family. It coupled the story with an attractive photo of the First Lady, in contrast with the practice of the Ha'aretz cartoonist to portray her with a porcine shape and features.
Judicial authorities and officials of Israel's Bar Association responded with severe criticism of Netanyahu's lawyers, for going beyond professional norms in criticizing court decisions. Threats of Bar Association hearings on charges of ethical violations have so far brought one of Netanyahu's attorneys to apologize, and assert that he did not intend to insult the court.
The stories about Sara keep adding up, and lead some to wonder when they'll pull down the pillars holding up Bibi's career.
Just this week, however, the Prime Minister weathered three resignations of ostensible coalition partners and won the endorsement of Avigdor Liberman as Defense Minister, despite scathing criticism from opposition politicians and only slightly less damning remarks from some of his party colleagues.
We hear that the Prime Minister deserves criticism for his own comments and action, but admiration for living and working as well as he does alongside Sara.
Our Prime Minister knows how to cope.
He serves his constituency with verbiage that clearly to the right of center on matters of politics, religion, and international relations, but keeps the country from acting in a way to invoke anything more than verbal opposition from international powers.
He threatens mayhem in response to missile attacks from Gaza, but orders the IDF to bomb unoccupied premises late at night when a rocket or mortar falls on an open field. When the drizzle of missiles turned into a storm in 2014, he sent the IDF on a major operation that produced considerable rubble and more than 2,200 Palestinian deaths, but he resisted demands for a total defeat of Hamas or an occupation of Gaza.
In a similar fashion, the Prime Minister speaks in favor of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but has limited the construction actually undertaken.
Symbols are no less important than actions in politics. There is typically a lot more verbal excitement than actual delivery of what is promised or threatened. Legislators introduce many more proposals than even reach the level of discussion in committees. What is enacted is a tiny portion of what is formally discussed. Then only a portion of what is enacted survives the hurdles of adjustment, downsizing, and outright vetoes by professional bureaucrats, operating along with policymakers who are nominally in charge..
Israelis are used to Bibi's extremist blather and modest delivery. Americans should be worrying how Donald will act as President if he trumps Hillary. His one-liners provide ample reason for Americans angry about what has been happening--and not happening--to vote for him, but very little by way of clues as to how he will act if he reaches office.
Trump has moved from being viewed as an impotent clown to a sure bet to win the Republican nomination, and ahead of Hillary Clinton in the polling. There is plenty for him to attack in Hillary's record, and no shortage of material for her to attack in his lack of governmental experience, his mixed record in business, and campaign statements that qualified for labels escalating from unusual to wild and insane.
Never has such a political novice reached the American presidency. The closest was Wendell Willkie, a moderate Republican who got the nomination in 1940. He had the advantage of going against a President who was violating the two-term tradition, but the disadvantage of an unsettled world, with Europe already at war. The results were not close. Roosevelt received 55 percent of the two-party vote, and 85 percent of the electoral votes.
The latest of Trump's trophy wives adds her beauty to his campaign. Bill has maintained considerable popularity despite a messy personal record, and adds both face and substance to Hillary's campaign.
Bibi has done well in Israeli politics despite Sara's antics. Although there is considerable criticism of his form and substance, there is not an candidate with the capacity to unseat him in the near future.
The title of one of the many books about FDR, The Lion and the Fox, suggests a comparison with Bibi, with a focus on his roaring as an extremist, and slithering away from his own comments in a way to minimize damage.
It's not easy comparing Roosevelt to Netanyahu, given much different contexts and the elevation of FDR to iconic stature as the man who is said to have ended the Depression and won the war.
It's even more difficult comparing Eleanor Roosevelt to Sara Netanyahu.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)Department of Political ScienceHebrew University of Jerusalem