By: Tal Schneider and Noga Tarnopolsky
It has become almost impossible to keep up with the Netanyahus—specifically, the ins and outs of Sara Netanyahu’s unsavory behavior.
To put it mildly, Mrs. Netanyahu has never been popular in Israel. Stories of her antics and cavalier use of public funds surface with distressing regularity. About a year ago, a number of lawsuits were filed by Netanyahu domestic staff. The most explosive of these was presented to Labor Court by Menny Naftali, the residence’s former manager, a graduate of an elite army unit and a former bodyguard who was hand-picked for the job, who filed a lawsuit decrying abusive work conditions. The case should have been heard in January, but court was postponed till after the elections at the request of the State Attorney’s office, who represents the official residence.
This decision comes at the heels of others made by various authorities, such as that of the State Comptroller’s and the Attorney General, to delay publication of reports regarding the allegedly unjustified expenditure of public funds in the prime minister’s residence. Only after a public outcry was the decision made to release them in two weeks. The thing is, it is impossible to ignore the unpleasant odor arising from a mosh pit of senior officials bending the rules to accommodate the privet needs of Netanyahu, who appointed them, of pressure applied to senior officials who were appointed by Netanyahu.
Parallel to this unpleasantness, a few days ago Ha’aretz broke the story of a scandal worthy of mention. According to the article, Sara Netanyahu pocketed several thousand shekels of money that was acquired through the recycling of bottles bought by the state. Get it? The PM’s residence buys a significant amount of bottled beverages and liqueur. In Israel, you get a deposit of some 7 cents back for every bottle returned. On American terms, we are talking about a pittance. This is like those stories of a millionaire caught stealing a tie. But, according to the story, it turns out Mrs. Netanyahu had something of an obsessive interest in recycling, employing staff to return bottles and bring home the cash. It appears that the first lady, who has the reputation of drinking to excess, had already come to a secret plea arrangement with the state about reimbursing the funds. This story had the effect of a combustible liquid poured over a barbecue.
As you can imagine, all of the above does not portray Mrs. Netanyahu in a flattering light. Reports of this type about her have come out in drips and drabs over the past few years, and in each and every case, the prime minister somehow emerges as a victim, complaining about the persecution of his wife by a ravaging, biased left-wing media. Such was the case this week, as well.
Amid all this noise, this week the Likud got bogged down in a major strategic move in which they accused the Labor party (newly-christened the Zionist Camp) of cooperating with a new NGO called V15, which they claim illicitly benefits Labor through the use of foreign funds and, speaking of recycling, is basically importing Move-On tactics into Israel’s pristine political sphere. They held a press conference on Sunday and came off looking incompetent when it emerged they have no evidence to make their case. Labor, of course, denied everything. Then it emerged that Netanyahu has hired Republican strategist Vincent Harris to aide him in this campaign. Morass, morass, morass.
After a few days of mutual mud-slinging, with Labor pointing to the Likud’s foreign donors and the Likud returning fire by outing Obama’s 2012 adviser, Jeremy Bird, who is helping Herzog, the Likud’s tactic seems to have succeeded. The Israeli public likes to see them aggressively on the offence. A poll released this week by Ha’aretz showed the Likud creeping past Labor.
Last point: There is a mind-boggling gap between US media coverage of what has come to be known and Boehnergate and reporting in Israel. While American journalists have publicly taken Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer to task for the temerity of subverting President Obama and have highlighted the vice-president’s (and many Democrats’) reluctance to attend Netanyahu’s congressional address, the Israeli media seems to take no notice. The story as just not caught on.
Despite the prime minister’s constant litany about the media that is out to get him, the fact is that he rules the roost. He is able to control Israel’s public discourse and has diverted the campaign from social-economic issues to the eternal Iranian threat and—possibly—to the question of foreign funds.