Is Sara Netanyahu the Erratic Power Behind Bibi's Throne?

Fashion Faux Pas Is Tip of Iceberg for Israel's First Lady

Bibi’s Svengali? Sara Netanyahu was pilloried over the dress she wore to the Knesset opening ceremony. But beyond gossip, critics voice serious concerns about the outsized role she plays in controlling her Prime Minister husband.
getty images
Bibi’s Svengali? Sara Netanyahu was pilloried over the dress she wore to the Knesset opening ceremony. But beyond gossip, critics voice serious concerns about the outsized role she plays in controlling her Prime Minister husband.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published March 11, 2013, issue of March 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

The long-running Sara Netanyahu story started in 1997 with legal claims about her personal conduct. A nanny for the young Netanyahu boys sued her, claiming that she had withheld wages and reporting that she threw shoes at an assistant, complaining that they were cleaned poorly. A year later, a caregiver for Netanyahu’s father claimed that she was forced to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As time has gone on, it has been suggested that Netanyahu’s demands send major ripples into her husband’s work life.

“The most delicate issues in a foreign visit are issues related to her,” a source in Israel’s Foreign Ministry told the Forward, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the subject’s sensitivity. “These are the most sensitive issues, researched to the finest details.” The source added that there is a general feeling in the Foreign Ministry that officials need to be at their “very best” for any component of a visit involving Netanyahu and to hope that if mistakes happen, they are not related to her requirements.

The relationship between the prime minister and his third wife is a source of major speculation in Israel. He reportedly met her when she was working as a flight attendant on El Al, the national airline. They married in 1991 after a short courtship. Two years later, he publicly confessed to having an extramarital affair, but she stood by him, giving rise to rumors of a pragmatic power-sharing pact that binds them to this day.

The idea of such a pact may seem farfetched, but what is clear is that Netanyahu is Israel’s first very public First Lady. Galia Golan, professor of politics at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, said that before Benjamin Netanyahu’s first stint as prime minister, from 1996 to 1999, prime ministers’ wives (only one had a husband) were far more low key. “It looked like he was importing the American political style of taking his wife everywhere,” she recalled. Today, there is a near-universal understanding in Israel that Sara Natanyahu is intensely involved in her husband’s political work. She is feared by many of his allies, who feel that their continued favor with the prime minister is contingent on currying favor with her.

The Israeli who has followed Netanyahu more than any other is Caspit. He is persona-non-grata to both Netanyahus nowadays, mostly because of his unauthorized biography of the prime minister. But in the past Caspit met with Benjamin Netanyahu despite his wife’s dislike for him. They convened in “safe houses not listed in [Netanyahu’s] itinerary” lest she find out, Caspit told the Forward.

He said: “I have been following this couple and this lady for around 20 years, and I have spoken to most if not all of the people who were there, working with this couple, probably hundreds.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.