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 3 of 3)

In Caspit’s account, Sara Netanyahu is the key to understanding one of her husband’s most perplexing missteps following the January 22 election. After the results came in, Netanyahu, whose Likud party won a plurality and the opportunity to form a government, hesitated on the main coalition deals for weeks. Most strikingly, he failed to close a deal with his natural allies, the Jewish Home and Yesh Atid parties. Some observers said that he waited because he wanted to wear them down on their refusal to enter into a coalition that included ultra-Orthodox factions; others said that he wanted to play hardball on ministerial appointments.

Caspit says it was all about Netanyahu herself.

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett was Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff from 2006 to 2008 and left following a public falling-out with his boss’s wife. Just before the election, he joked that he and Sara Netanyahu had participated in “a terrorism course together.” Then, after the election, the prime minister kept Bennett, whose party came in third, waiting for a meeting as a parade of other, less crucial factions got appointments. Even Zahava Gal-On, the leader of the tiny dovish party Meretz, who had sworn not to enter the coalition, got in before Bennett.

On February 10, Bennett apologized for his pre-election remark about Sara Netanyahu; on February 11 he was finally granted a meeting.

Caspit commented: “The whole nature of the crisis in coalition building is because she decided [Bennett] is not ‘in.’”

The irony, Caspit added, is that her personal dislikes weakened her husband. In Caspit’s analysis, were it not for Netanyahu’s boycott of Bennett, Benjamin Netanyahu could have quickly built a coalition of Jewish Home and several ultra-Orthodox parties, leaving Yesh Atid in opposition. But Jewish Home knew that she would not let this happen, so it made an alliance with Yesh Atid to stick together — an alliance that, once Yesh Atid’s demands were factored in, ultimately made coalition building difficult.

Some see suggestions of such broad influence as slurs. Sara Netanyahu, they point out, is the first prime minister’s wife to work while her husband is in office. Her defenders say that she is focused on her two sons and on her profession as a child psychologist for the Jerusalem Municipality. If she takes an interest in her husband’s activities, they say, it is only natural.

Others challenge the news media’s portrayal of her personality. Shelly Hoshen, founder of the children’s charity Yad B’Yad, which Netanyahu chaired during her husband’s first term as prime minister in the late 1990s, told the Forward of her kindness, saying that she was “a very good volunteer and open to helping the children.”

Haaretz columnist Kobi Niv blamed the media for their negative portrayal of Netanyahu. “The repeated media attacks on the prime minister’s wife don’t teach us a thing about how the country is managed,” he wrote in February. “But they do teach us a lot about the cowardly, pitiful, misogynist behavior of the Israeli media.

“So leave Sara in peace. She’s not the prime minister. Her husband is.”

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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!
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • 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.