Last Tuesday, just after 10:30 a.m., I was walking up Gaza Street in Jerusalem on my way to an appointment. Halfway up there were sirens and the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s convoy of five or six cars made its way up through the traffic. This seemed a strange direction for the convoy to be going – it usually goes down Gaza Street, in the direction of the Prime Minister’s office.
On my way back home half an hour later, the mystery was solved. When I passed by the barrier in front of the compound of the currently gutted and deserted Prime Minister’s Residence, I saw Netanyahu’s convoy parked on Balfour Street, in front of a building in which the state rents a two-room apartment. In the past, the apartment used to house the guards of the Prime Minister’s Residence. During the five months in which Yair Lapid served as Prime Minister, he and his wife occasionally stayed there overnight since, as already mentioned, the official residence has been gutted and is currently unusable.
Since Netanyahu returned to power, the apartment, which is reported to cost the state around NIS 8,000 per month, serves as the location where he is coiffured and applied with makeup. I wondered about the hour and for a moment thought that perhaps it was the prime minister’s wife who was making use of the facilities but since Sara does not travel in a convoy of cars, I quickly removed this option from my thoughts.
The events of Wednesday proved my conclusion to have been correct, since it transpired that Sara had a hairdressing appointment at the salon of her favorite hairstylist: Moshe Abutbul, on Kikar Hamedina (State Square) in Tel Aviv, on that evening. To the best of my knowledge, there are some excellent hairstylists in Jerusalem – where our premier and his wife live when they are in power but I guess that when one has an annual budget of NIS 80,000 for clothing, makeup and hairdressing, a trip to Tel Aviv for having one’s hair done is not unreasonable.
Nevertheless, Sara’s visit to her hairstylist in Tel Aviv last Wednesday evening was anything but reasonable. To start off with, let me say that I thought that the gathering of several hundred (some say several thousand) demonstrators outside the hairdressing salon of Moshe Abutbul, in order to block Sara Netanyahu’s exit at the end of her appointment, was superfluous, unhelpful and I would add it was in bad taste.
There is certainly no love lost between Netanyahu’s political foes and his wife, and in my eyes, long ago Sara’s conduct – intervening with state affairs that are none of her business, her personal expenses and those of her household for which she keeps demanding state financing, her conduct vis-a-vis domestic workers and when her sons were children, their nannies, should have been much more closely regulated by the various relevant state authorities. Why were they not? Because Sara has a reputation for her tantrums and outbursts of rage and logic dictates that one should avoid any confrontation with her if at all possible.
Sara Netanyahu has nothing to do with the judicial reform protests
HOWEVER, SARA’S problems, no matter what their origin, have nothing to do with the current demonstrations against the legal revolution that the government has initiated since the Likud returned to power, nor with the danger to Israel’s liberal democracy. Nevertheless, should Israel turn into an authoritarian state with Netanyahu at its head, as the opposition claims it is on the way to doing, as the wife of an authoritarian leader, Sara’s conduct is liable to become even more objectionable to many of us than it is today.
The problem with the siege on Moshe Abutbul’s salon last Wednesday was that it had not been planned and resulted from the fact that a woman who had observed Sara entering the salon, immediately tweeted the fact and in no time demonstrators from Kaplan Street started pouring into Kikar Hamedina, without any clear plan as to what to do once they got there.
Eventually, opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, as well as former prime minister Ehud Barak, reached the conclusion that the event was harmful and asked the demonstrators to leave the square and let Sara depart. But this happened well into the three-hour (or longer) siege and was too late to leave an impression of any sort.
As to Sara, the question remains why she insisted on keeping her hairdressing appointment that had been set 10 days earlier, even though members of her entourage warned her that because of the massive demonstration that was expected to take place not too far away from Kikar Hamedina, it was unwise to go there. One member of the entourage said to a reporter that Sara refused to pay heed.
Some members of the opposition and journalists supporting the demonstrations suggested that Sara was happy about the opportunity to demonstrate her contempt for the demonstrators and actually planned a provocation. That doesn’t make sense because she seemed to be genuinely surprised by the fact that the demonstrators turned up and their hostile reaction to her presence in the salon. After the event was over and she was safely at home with her husband, she claimed that she had actually been afraid that she might be killed had the demonstrators broken through the salon’s glass facade.
Though there was no real danger to her life, no doubt had Sara tried to leave the salon before masses of policemen with some on horses and other security personnel came to get her out safely, she might have been physically harmed. Thank heavens, this did not take place.
WHAT I cannot understand is why the people in charge of the security of the prime minister and his family didn’t simply insist on Sara postponing her hairdressing appointment and didn’t warn her that even though it was unlikely that she would be harmed, it could be a highly unpleasant experience for her. In the final reckoning, I am sure that the need to bring massive numbers of policemen and other security forces in order to get Sara out safely was costly and could easily have been avoided.
As to the demonstrators, it is clear that as the dimensions of the demonstrations keep growing there is less and less control by anyone in particular over what certain fringe groups of one sort or another do. It is certainly not the leaders of the opposition who are calling the shots (figuratively speaking, of course). The advantage of this is that also people who did not vote for the opposition parties in the recent elections but are unhappy about the government’s conduct, in general, and the legal reform, in particular, can join the demonstrations without any qualms.
Since the influence of the political leaders is minimal at best, it is extremely important that the police should act so that order is kept when divergences occur. However, the fact that National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir seems determined to bash the demonstrators, most of whom he considers to be anarchists and traitors, is bad news.
When this article was completed late Saturday night, the weekly demonstration in Tel Aviv (attended by around 160,000 people) and demonstrations in other locations around the country appeared to have gone by relatively peacefully. Hopefully, Sara is safely at home either in Jerusalem or in Caesarea.
The writer, worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book, Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, was published by Routledge.