Media Matters: Que Sara Sara

Accusations that the first lady mistreated her housekeepers has sparked a war between the nation’s two leading papers and the prime minister’s family – and the country may be paying the price.

Sara Netanyahu (photo credit: Jerusalem Post)
Sara Netanyahu
(photo credit: Jerusalem Post)
Just over a week ago Yediot Aharonot made an interesting editorial decision. Amid the disastrous situation  in Haiti following a massive earthquake, Yediot split its front page in half – one side featured a report on Haiti, the other a report that a former housekeeper in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s household had filed a lawsuit against him and his wife Sara alleging that the latter had verbally abused her. If the allegations prove to be true, it is an unfortunate piece of news and a serious blow to Sara’s already less than stellar reputation, but small potatoes compared to the political-media storm that has since hit.

Netanyahu’s camp was quick to deny the allegations and point the finger at Yediot, claiming its reporting was part of a strategic campaign to attract readers and boost its suffering circulation. Indeed, scrutiny of the Netanyahu household has been incessant since the first story broke, particularly in Yediot which devoted two full pages to the allegations that day. Almost daily, the pages of the country’s newspapers have been inundated by unflattering cartoons of Mrs. Netanyahu and articles attempting to dig up her shady past. The story has taken on a life of its own.

In last week’s Friday edition, Ma’ariv correspondent Ben Caspit, a vocal critic of Netanyahu, claimed that when the Netanyahus moved into the prime minister’s residence, “they fired the gardener, who was over 70, the father of soldier killed in combat, who raked the dry leaves and handled basic gardening tasks for less than the minimum wage.”

Vehemently denying the allegations, Mrs. Netanyahu has come out strongly against Ma’ariv, insisting that neither paper ever bothered to contact her for her reactions to the allegations and that Caspit purposefully tried to portray her as a cold, heartless woman who “assaults the weak, is cruel to an aged gardener and fires for no reason a man who lost his son in combat.”

She also fired back with more than just words; she filed a NIS 1 million lawsuit against the paper.

WE ALL enjoy a good scandal from time to time, and when it’s someone in the public eye, we tend to be drawn to it even more. We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture, where the lines between celebrity and politics are constantly being blurred. Sara Netanyahu is no different here than a Britney Spears or a Mel Gibson. Real people with real problems, only for some reason we expect more from them and take pleasure in being immersed in their problems, weighing in on their lives as if we know them personally. What we fail to realize, however, is that when celebrity culture and political affairs mix, we as spectators are sometimes the ones who bear the consequences.

In his report, Caspit linked the allegations against Sara Netanyahu to the prime minister’s political career, calling Netanyahu “unfit to be prime minister” due to his wife’s “problematic” meddling. Similarly, Yediot stated the country should ask itself what sort of effect the “unbalanced behavior, to put it mildly” of Mrs. Netanyahu has on “the man who decides our destiny.” Them – as the saying goes – be fighting words.

Depending on how far and how nasty this gets, and it has the potential to get really nasty, a full-scale war between the nation’s two leading papers and the prime minister’s family will undoubtedly change the dynamic between the media and this government.

It is perfectly acceptable to be critical of our leaders. In fact it’s entirely necessary. However, the attacks launched against the prime minister on account of things his wife may or may not have done seem a bit far-reaching. Even some of Netanyahu’s staunchest political rivals have deplored the conduct of the media in the personal attacks on the Netanyahu family.
“I want you to falltoday, not tomorrow” MK Ahmed Tibi announced during a Knesset meetingthis past week, “but there are things you don’t do to a politician[like] degrade and attack his family in a nearly inhumane way.”

Something tells me leading the Stateof Israel isn’t easy. Whatever your opinions of Netanyahu as apolitician, we all want to see this country move in the rightdirection. With Syria and Hizbullah to the north, Hamas in the southand Iran just a hop, skip and long-range missile away, maybe it’s timeto lay off the Netanyahus’ personal affairs and let a court of lawjudge Sara Netanyahu instead of a court of public opinion.