Bibi fools everyone … except his wife

Feeling that Israel is facing an ongoing existential threat, the public turns to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, mistakenly perceived as a security authority and a savior.

al-monitor Sara Netanyahu (C) stands next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they attend the Jewish Federations of North America 2015 General Assembly in Washington, Nov. 10, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria.

Topics covered

sara netanyahu, leadership, israeli society, israeli occupation, intifada, corruption, benjamin netanyahu

Jan 21, 2016

A prime time show on Israel Army Radio, which falls under the authority of the defense minister, broadcast the following at the end of December: “I want the people of Israel to know that the elected prime minister, who is supposed to make decisions, protect our children and provide us with security, lives in an abnormal household. Just so.” This harsh comment, which was widely quoted by other Israeli media, was made by a longtime former employee in the prime minister’s residence after she testified to the police about the alleged misuse of public funds in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s homes.

“Believe me,” the employee said, “even the battery of the most powerful attorneys placed at her [Sara Netanyahu] disposal doesn't truly believe in what it is doing.” She confirmed reports that Sara Netanyahu is allegedly a heavy drinker. “I saw her in the house, not steady on her feet. I am willing to undergo a polygraph test about this,” the woman said. She is one of a host of former employees, household staff and friends who underscore the observation that the most crucial decisions affecting the people of Israel are made in “an abnormal household” on Balfour Street.

And after all this, that same disgruntled employee, who fears for the fate of her children, nonetheless said, “I am one of Netanyahu’s voters and my entire family votes for him.” All polls indicate that if Israelis were summoned to the ballot box today, they would send the Netanyahu family back to that same “abnormal” house that is the the prime minister's residence. In regard to the government’s helplessness in the “knifing intifada” many Israelis respond, “Well, what do you want? Is Buji [nickname of opposition leader Isaac Herzog] any better?” or “Is Netanyahu to blame that a Palestinian youth, inculcated with [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas' incitement against Jews, murdered a woman in cold blood in front of her children? What’s that got to do with the occupation?”

Israelis were largely oblivious to the unusual criticism voiced Jan. 18 by US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro of Israel’s policy in the occupied territories. Shapiro said, “There seem to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law: one for Israelis and another for Palestinians.” The crisis in the relationship with Sweden over a comment by Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom and the European campaign against the settlements are far less interesting to viewers of the “Big Brother” reality show than the snow that fell this week on Mount Hermon. Who cares that the Brazilian government is refusing to accept Netanyahu’s nominee as Israel’s ambassador to Brazil, settler and former Judea and Samaria settlement council leader Danny Dayan? How is Netanyahu even linked to the new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that ranked Israel as the country with the highest poverty rates among the organization’s member states? So what if 21% of the country’s inhabitants are currently below the poverty line, compared with some 14% in the mid-1990s? In any case, most of the poor eventually vote for right-wing parties.

Is it true, as the song by singer, songwriter Shalom Hanoch “Waiting for Messiah” goes, that “the public is stupid, so the public will pay”? Could Israelis be living in a fool’s paradise? How is it possible that a public that generates a record number of Nobel Prize laureates and boasts the world’s highest per capita startup companies has been acting for such a long time contrary to so many of its interests?

A public opinion study conducted last November for the Israeli Peace Initiative, a group dedicated to promoting regional peace, indicates that the problem lies not with Israelis’ intelligence. They understand their situation very well. Of those among the Jewish public polled for the project by New Wave Research, 64% defined Israel’s security situation as somewhere between “middling” to “bad.” Most interesting was the finding that 61% think Israel should initiate a diplomatic process, and 80% said they would support a regional peace agreement — after the pollsters explained to them in detail the elements of the Saudi Arab Peace Initiative and its advantages, including Israel ceding its sovereignty over the Temple Mount (some 60% of those polled had not heard of the initiative previously).

Professor Daniel Bar-Tal, a political psychologist, claims that the explanation for the wide gap between the dissatisfaction with the Netanyahu government’s policy and the support for his leadership does not lie in the collective intelligence quotient. Speaking with Al-Monitor, Bar-Tal said studies show that most of the public believe an existential threat hangs over Israel. Israelis bear the lesson of the Holocaust, according to which they cannot trust any country in the world to help them in their hour of need. He said, “For most Jews living in Israel, the people of Israel remain a victim persecuted by an anti-Semitic world. Any criticism emanating from abroad, or measures against the settlements, strengthen the belief that the world treats us unfairly. The Middle East is in flames, the Islamic State butchers American citizens and massacres French people in the heart of Paris, Jews are murdered in Tel Aviv, and what interests the gentiles is the construction of a few new houses in Jerusalem."

Bar-Tal said that external pressures designed also to generate critical thinking about the occupation and settlement policies among Israelis in the political center and the moderate right actually turn Netanyahu into a national hero in the eyes of many. “They see in him the Jew who staunchly protects Israel’s just case vis-a-vis the world — a Jew who does not kowtow to the lords of the manor and even challenges the president of the United States,” Bar-Tal said.

In addition, he said, the right offers Israelis a warm home, one in which they can find patriotism, a sense of belonging and solidarity. In this home they meet likeminded people who believe that Jews are the chosen people, surrounded by inferior Muslim nations.

No housemaid is going to confuse then with facts about the abnormal household in which the prime minister resides. On the contrary. Anyone who has stuck it out (as her former employees call their service) for so many years at the side of Sara Netanyahu can withstand any adversity. One can only hope that adversity doesn’t strike anytime soon.

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