Netanyahu’s wife on the attack: blames protesters for sexual harassment

Sara Netanyahu, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, is again on the attack, with a complaint filed by the police against demonstrators allegedly sexually harassing her and threatening her life.

al-monitor Wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sara Netanyahu, looks on as US President Donald Trump and her husband meet in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, March 5, 2018. Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images.

Topics covered

avichai mandelblit, sexual harassment, yair netanyahu, demonstrators, protests, benjamin netanyahu, sara netanyahu

Aug 13, 2020

Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, filed Aug. 11 an official police complaint alleging threats to her life and sexual harassment. This was by no means a routine occurrence; in fact, no wife of an Israeli premier has ever been known to make such a complaint to the police.

For some two hours, Netanyahu presented the police investigator dispatched to the prime minister’s official residence with a litany of the threats and harassment to which she had been subjected. One of the key pieces of proof she cited was an obscene tweet by a man who described how he planned to rape her. She also presented the investigator with photos of the ongoing demonstrations taking place outside the official residence in Jerusalem in recent weeks, at which several protesters held aloft inflated balloons in the shape of penises. The balloons were covered with lewd comments such as “Bibi [Netanyahu] is impotent” and “Come, Sara’leh, let’s get out of here,” echoing a remark that has become a cult classic that Netanyahu made to his wife in 1997 after complaining to reporters about constant attacks on his family. Yet another balloon addressed the couple’s son Yair, saying “Yair is a dick.”

On the same day, the prime minister himself sent a harsh, unprecedented letter to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, accusing him of repeatedly ignoring the threats against himself and his family to the extent that he was declaring “open season” on them. Referring to the alleged rape threat against Sara Netanyahu, he wrote, “Last week, protesters outside the prime minister’s residence waved about inflated male organs on which they wrote invective of a sexual nature directed at my wife, my son Yair and myself. And as if that were not enough, you did not deem fit to order an immediate investigation into the abominable tweet threatening specifically to rape my wife, not obliquely, not vaguely, but graphically threatening a brutal, shocking rape.” Mandelblit, by the way, deflected the accusations, responding with a detailed list of all the threat investigations police had undertaken.

The couple appears to have decided to launch a combined attack. Many pundits regard this as clear indication of Netanyahu’s preparations for imminent elections by presenting himself and his wife as victims of relentless persecution in order to mobilize his supporters. The explanation sounds logical and is in keeping with political reality and with Netanyahu’s campaign style. The writing is on the wall. The prime minister is gearing up for elections.

As for Netanyahu, on the day after she filed the complaint with police, she gave a lengthy telephone interview to Channel 12 News. “I definitely feel as if I have undergone sexual harassment if not sexual violence,” she told her interviewer. In describing her feelings, she added, “I am an abused woman and my children are abused.”

Netanyahu opened fire in all directions, recounting her fear of physical attacks against herself and her family prompted by the mass demonstrations outside the official residence. “They are saying they will lob flaming torches onto the house on Balfour [Street] and will also burn us alive,” she said. She then went on to accuse the media of hypocrisy and took to task women’s groups and left-wing female lawmakers for their lack of solidarity in failing to come to her defense. “I would expect the Knesset members who tut-tut over women’s rights … to also speak out against it,” she added.

Indeed, the assaults on Netanyahu on social media are unprecedented in their vulgarity and sexually demeaning remarks, verging on verbal sexual harassment.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu consistently fails to evoke widespread empathy. Many of the reactions to the interview found it ridiculous. Social media was awash with yet more ridicule and criticism of the woman who is disconnected from the suffering around her, preoccupied with herself while ordinary Israelis are hit by the coronavirus crisis. Women’s organizations not only did not come to her defense, they attacked her for cheapening the term “battered woman.” Hagit Pe’er, chair of Israel’s largest women’s organization Na’amat, said, “Mrs. Netanyahu is not a battered woman. This is a cheapening of the concept and Mrs. Netanyahu, who has visited women’s shelters in the past, knows this.”

Former Knesset member and Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich, closely identified with women’s rights campaigns and anti-harassment legislation, tweeted, “You’re not a battered woman, your children are not battered, nor were you raped as a result of disgusting placards expressing vile intentions to which we as women are subjected morning, noon and night. I am truly not one of those who harass her. He is the prime minister, not she. But enough already. The couple’s zero empathy for the victims of sexual attack, and the ugly exploitation of their plight, must stop.”

On the political right, however, many stood by Sara Netanyahu — journalists, female Likud party lawmakers and other politicians. Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin posted on Facebook, “Imagine the name of your relative written there, imagine the name of a close female friend shamelessly inscribed on this revolting ‘exhibit.’ This is exactly how anarchy looks, when every person’s personal security and reputation are fair game, when women are turned into targets of attack by the rabble in the town square. The wild incitement against the wife of the prime minister has made her a target, trampled her dignity, and law enforcement authorities are silent.” Still, his comments did not generate pro-Sara Netanyahu sympathy on the political left.

Some three weeks ago, Netanyahu was rumored to have had a nervous breakdown that led her to vanish from the public eye. In response, her aides issued a video clip showing her in the garden of her house to prove she was in good shape. The clip went viral, generating jeering among Netanyahu opponents.

The question is why the attacks of a sexual, misogynic nature that humiliate and demean Sara Netanyahu do not prompt widespread sympathy for her and condemnation of her opponents?

To some extent, Netanyahu’s troubles are of her own making. She was never a crowd favorite. She has drawn fire ever since she first appeared alongside her husband as a young woman during his first term (1996-99). Reports have surfaced over the years of her mistreating household staff as reflected in a series of lawsuits against her. Her dominance and influence over her husband and his work, including reported vetoes or approvals of top appointments, symbolizes for many of his detractors the rot and corruption rampant in his regime, and explains why she is being targeted by demonstrators. In the 14 years she has been the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu has failed to create a constructive agenda of her own, accusing the media of persecuting herself and her husband.

For years, the Netanyahu’s have argued that the attacks on her are meant to undermine and unseat the prime minister after failing to do so at the ballot box. Netanyahu was always adept at turning these attacks on their head and garnering votes with the narrative of his persecution. This is what the two are doing now — with yet another indication of looming elections, the fourth in 18 months.

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