Jewish Journal


3 Political Comments: The President, the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister’s Wife

by Shmuel Rosner

March 24, 2014 | 3:40 am

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara. Photo by Reuters/Blair Gable

You can find quite a bit of political gossip in Israel's headlines these days. Here’s your guide to the serious, the unserious and the ridiculous.

The Attorney General is investigating a complaint that a top Israeli Minister sexually assaulted a woman many years ago (15, to be exact). Naturally, I’m in no position to say if the allegations have any truth to them. But the timing is, well, suspicious. As usual in such cases, the name of the minister was quickly revealed by irresponsible websites, and on social media. Would you believe me if I said that I knew the name, just by taking a guess, before it was released? I swear I did – and it wasn’t even that difficult. The reports said this was a “senior” minister. They also said he was already a minister 15 years ago. And then, there’s the timing – it almost always has something to do with the timing. Israel’s next political battle is the one for the presidency. And as someone said: the lower the stakes, the dirtier the politics become. It is quite clear by now, that Israel’s next president is not going to match the stature and prestige of current President Shimon Peres. It is quite clear by now that the Knesset is going to play politics as usual and choose one of its own for the distinguished post. And it is also clear that there’s a good chance that for the next president elect to be crowned he'll first have to go through the traditional mudslinging ceremony.

The Finance Minister, Yair Lapid, has a new plan for reducing housing prices – the most explosive political item on Israel’s agenda. The professionals all say it is not a good plan. One of them even quit in protest. Eliminating value added tax for first-home purchases sounds like a good idea, but it is not clear where the money will be coming from, and it's also not clear how such a move is going to impact the housing market. Lapid would like Israelis to believe this is a bold plan, that he is 'thinking outside the box'. If prices are indeed reduced, he wants to get the credit for it. Lapid’s opponents see it as a move made by a desperate politician with very little to show for when the next election cycle begins. Of course, I’m in no position to tell you if this is a good plan. I suspect it isn’t. But maybe Lapid understands something that the professionals – being professionals – can’t see. This definitely isn't the first time in history that the professional elite don't approve of a plan designed by a politician. It also wouldn't be the first time that a plan that was very possibly designed because of political reasons actually works. Lapid does get something better than his advisors: the housing crisis is more urgent for Israelis than it is for the country's economic elite. If his plan doesn’t work, let the voters punish him (of course, there will be a price to pay, and it is a costly plan. But that’s one of the risks one takes by letting politicians make decisions – in other words, the price of democracy).

The Prime Minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, is used to scandal. The new scandal involving her begins with a lawsuit: A former house keeper for the Netanyahus says that “the major, significant source of the bleak atmosphere at the prime minister's residence is the reckless behavior of Mrs. Netanyahu, who makes demands on the employees for personal services day and night, and disparages employees who do not meet her expectations". Quite clearly, that Sara Netanyahu isn’t an easy boss is pretty much an established fact. It would have been better for her to be more in control of her demanding temper. But let’s be honest about this affair: this is gossip, and the press loves it because it’s gossip, and the attempts to make this an issue of national security ('how can we trust a Prime Minister that has to wake up at three in the morning to calm down his angry wife?') is pathetic. In fact, even as gossip this isn’t very interesting, as it only retells a story Israelis have already heard in the past. They know that Sara Netanyahu can be difficult. They know that working for her is no picnic. I might be wrong, but as far as I can tell, they are not outraged by this – many of them feel sorry for her, for not being able to control her temper better; or they feel sorry for her employees, for having to deal with such temper to make a living; or, in most cases, they feel sorry for both.

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