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!
  • 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
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • 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.