Sara on our minds

It’s an obsession the way we watch the prime minister’s wife. If she could only do something to finally make us lose interest.

SARA NETANYAHU shakes hands with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on, in New Delhi January 2018 (photo credit: ADNAN ABIDI/ REUTERS)
SARA NETANYAHU shakes hands with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on, in New Delhi January 2018
(photo credit: ADNAN ABIDI/ REUTERS)
We seem to have this “Sara Thing.” You know, Sara, as in Netanyahu.
We’ve heard the tales of personal staff who resigned or were fired and then went public with the way she had habitually berated them with high-decibel histrionics and treated them as little more than pissants who should be grateful to have found work with the madam of the manor. The tales started way back in the late 1990s during her husband’s first tenure.
In 2015, we were treated to the transcript of a phone call she allegedly made to the significant other of Sderot mayor Eli Moyal after he had publicly criticized Benjamin Netanyahu for the way he was handling the security situation.
The prime minister, Sara said, “took the entire State of Israel on his shoulders. He sends troops to battle, acts with extraordinary political wisdom. He’s read tons of books, he understands economics, he understands security, he’s got university degrees.... The whole world worships him. Who’s Eli Moyal? He can’t hold a candle to Bibi.”
Ms. Netanyahu does not do a lot of public speaking, so her voice isn’t all that recognizable.
Thus, when a poor-quality phone recording was unearthed featuring a woman’s rant so livid and often indecipherable that when broadcast on the evening news it required subtitles, you had to take people at their word that this was Sara close to a decade ago dressing down a spokesman for a brief gossip item that didn’t come out the way she wanted.
The 2015 transcript had us gaping – there was finally a record, word for word, of how she could let loose. Yet now we had a voice, and one with an exceedingly repulsive and even juvenile tone. But was it really her? We didn’t have to go far or wait long, for within hours, the prime minister himself took to social media to say that each one of us on occasion “gets angry and says a few words that he didn’t mean.” Thank you, Bibi, for the confirmation.
OUR “SARA THING” is an obsession. And why not? In recent years, thanks chiefly to police investigations in which the leaks have been fast and furious, the tales have had to do with a woman who not only sounds unhinged, but loves the finer things in life – and the cheaper, the better.
There have been reports, substantiated or not, about ordering out for luxury meals and then billing the state when it was already paying for groceries and a cook; schlepping dirty laundry on official overseas trips, where it could be cleaned for free rather than having the cost deducted from the official household budget; and finagling crates of champagne and oodles of fine jewelry from wealthy acquaintances.
(Let’s not forget, too, those stories about her pocketing the deposits from crates and bags full of returnable bottles.) Most recently, after the visit by US Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, it came to light that there had been an invitation printed up for an official dinner in honor of the visiting couple that referred to the prime minister’s wife as “First Lady Sara Netanyahu.” (I saw a copy.) There’s no such term in official Israeli protocol (although if there were, it would probably be conferred upon the wife of Israel’s president, who is a head of state and not merely head of a government).
I’m no psychologist (unlike Ms. Netanyahu, who made her professional credentials abundantly clear in that phone recording we all heard), yet I can’t help but think that she looks at all of this as payback.
She’s owed, and big-time.
It all started out with great promise. He was an attractive, twice-divorced bachelor, a young, up-and-coming, well-spoken and ambitious Knesset member of outstanding pedigree with a hero brother who had made Netanyahu a household name. So, the story goes, he was an El Al passenger and she was one of the flight attendants, and she slipped him a note with her phone number.
One thing led to another and they married in early 1991. Their oldest, Yair, was born that July. But her world turned upside down when, in Netanyahu’s race to become leader of the Likud in 1993, she was informed of a videotape purporting to show him in a dalliance with another woman.
There’s no conjecture as to whether Sara merely cried or threw a lamp at him, but lickety-split he was live on the evening news admitting to the affair in order to head off any attempts at blackmail. Sara’s feelings, meanwhile, seemed a mere onthe- air afterthought.
Netanyahu went on to win the party leadership and remain married, and ever since, there’s been talk of a notarized agreement Sara had him sign. If it exists, no one outside the Netanyahus and their legal people has seen it, but there has been persistent conjecture that it involves wide-ranging conditions for his future behavior toward her and what she would be allowed to do as wife of one of the country’s most powerful politicians, perhaps even prime minister.
Even if there’s no such agreement, it’s clear that Bibi could do without a third divorce.
Like I said, it could be she feels that she’s owed, and big-time.
I’VE NEVER met Sara and have no idea what she’s really like. As her husband said on social media after the recording of that 2009 phone call was made public, people get angry and say things they don’t mean.
You can’t argue with that.
I’d prefer to give her the benefit of the doubt and say that at least once upon a time, she was a kind, decent and generous person, but that perhaps she changed owing to circumstances and surroundings, whether it’s the 1993 sex-tape humiliation or merely being married to someone “the whole world worships.”
As the prime minister says, there are people who are interested in bringing him down, and one way is through his wife. I can’t agree more. Yet the signs are all there that Sara’s alleged behavior and attitudes toward others will keep coming to light, no matter what the intent of the leaks.
This can only hurt Benjamin Netanyahu’s popularity outside his shrinking base, especially among those who for now will vote Likud only because he’s the sole person currently on the political horizon with proven leadership capabilities.
Sara is certainly not like the ultra-private and independent Sonia Peres or the many prime ministerial wives who placed themselves squarely in the spotlight by doing good deeds for the less fortunate. She could have gone a long way toward repairing her image by sounding like a concerned mother and publicly speaking out about Yair and the lewd, crude and boastful comments he had been taped making. But she left that to her husband and again left us to wonder what was really going through her mind.
The question now is whether there’s any way at all to overhaul her image as Israel’s cold, calculating woman behind the throne – and one who’s out of control at that.