Israel’s blaming of the ‘shrew’

Where does the buck stop in the new Israeli government? You might think it was with the prime minister. Not so. Judging by the hysterical media reports over the past six weeks, it stops with Benjamin Netanyahu's wife, Sara, who is apparently responsible for most of his bad decisions in the coalition negotiations.

Sara, we are told, vetoed negotiations with Jewish Home, one of the election's big winners, because of a personal vendetta with its leader Naftali Bennett, dating back to when he was Bibi's chief of staff.

When Bennett was finally granted a meeting with Bibi, weeks after the election, Sara demanded changes to the coalition agreement, and finally forced Bennett and Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, to give up the title of deputy premier in order to clinch the deal. What's more, she allegedly got the speaker of the Knesset fired after he fell out of favour. It's quite a charge sheet.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not arguing that Sara did not do any of these things; she probably did, although we cannot know for sure (her side claims it's all political spin). And, yes, she should be responsible for her own actions. Her interference, if it is as alleged, is inappropriate and narcissistic.

But Bibi is ultimately responsible for his government. If his wife, who has not been elected or appointed to any official position, derailed coalition negotiations, it is the prime minister's fault for allowing it to happen. Yet the media - and his fellow politicians - seem to have given him a free pass, entirely concentrating their venom on Sara, who has been called everything from Lady Macbeth to "the most powerful person in Israel" (not in a good way). She's been demonised, but there has been no similar emotional reaction to him.

Israelis have always loved to hate Sara. She met Bibi when she was an El Al stewardess, and they married in 1991 after she fell pregnant. Two years later, he confessed to an affair on national television, but Sara got none of the credit or sympathy Hillary Clinton did when she stood by her man. On the contrary: rumours abound that she made Bibi sign an agreement sharing authority with her.

When he became prime minister in 1996, the couple encouraged the media to photograph them with their children, styling themselves like an American presidential family. It struck Israelis as self-aggrandising. Soon, she was under fire for sacking successive nannies - including one who burned the soup – and faced multiple lawsuits for mistreating her staff.

It hasn't helped that she reportedly insists on being called "Mrs Netanyahu". Israelis expect their leaders to be easygoing and informal; she comes across as a spoilt and arrogant social climber. But however unpleasant Sara may be in person, in recent years hatred of her has become irrational. In the swearing-in ceremony of the Knesset, she wore an unflattering dress which appeared revealing (it was actually flesh-coloured). The media and bloggers showed no mercy, comparing her to the Michelin man.

Actually, some journos seemed to be rather enjoying themselves. Hating Sara Netanyahu has become a competitive sport, and her alleged antics during the coalition negotiations have unleashed a bloodletting.

For many politicians, blaming her may be more politically expedient than directly attacking an essentially popular prime minister with jobs to assign. For the media and for the general public, there should have been further questions for the person actually accountable for the running of his office, Benjamin Netanyahu. Sadly, it has proved more fun to hunt down an alleged shrew than to tackle a henpecked husband.

"Bibi is ultimately responsible for his government"

Last updated: 10:45am, March 24 2013