The Beatles broke up when I was five, and my elder brother told me why: because of Yoko Ono. John Lennon's dominating wife insisted on joining the band, the other boys didn't agree and the Fab Four broke up forever. This was the popular narrative of that calamity, and I internalized the subtext: In every famous couple, the man takes care of status and success and the woman bears responsibility for the failures.
This model is embedded in our culture, ever since the story of Adam and Eve. We have been trained to believe that the wives of leaders and rock stars ride on their backs and effortlessly enjoy the prestige, power, limousines and suites, but are never happy and will forever make demands, or try to run their husbands' careers and decide on all the important things. The famous husband is presented as a victim who made a mistake in choosing a spouse and pays for the choice by being expelled from Paradise.
Paula Ben-Gurion starred in the folk tales of the early Israel, but nobody blamed her for her husband's fall from power. The "guilty wife" model was introduced to Israeli politics in 1977, with Yitzhak and Leah Rabin's dollar account affair. The wives of senior officials have been the stars of bad news sections ever since. Shulamit Shamir was described as controlling and intervening in the affairs of the Broadcasting Authority and the association for the elderly. Sonia Peres was accused of not being supportive enough of serial loser Shimon. Ronit Ashkenazi exchanged text messages with the crooked Boaz Harpaz, the forger of the "Galant document." Nili Priel-Barak and the wife of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein illegal employed foreign servants, as if their husbands simply failed to notice who's hanging about their homes. Ehud Olmert was a rare exception - in his case, the guilty woman was his office manager, Shula Zaken, not his wife, Aliza. In any case, the behavior remains the same.
But all these examples, from Leah Rabin to Mrs. Weinstein, pale next to Sara Netanyahu. From the day Benjamin Netanyahu took office in his first term in 1996, Sara Netanyahu has played the informal role of his evil alter-ego. Benjamin Netanyahu was seen as a gifted, if somewhat hyperbolic, speaker, and a weak politician eager to please everyone. The "lady" was presented as controlling, bullying, abusive of her workers, dictating appointments, enjoying luxury hotels, yearning for presents and delicacies and worst of all, forcing upon her husband her rightist ideology. Bibi, the fairy tale told us, would only appoint the worthiest of candidates and would even leave the territories if it wasn't for her evil influence. "Look what she's doing to him," the viewers at home would tut.
Sara Netanyahu is right when she says she's being put on the spot but the real target is her husband. This is the price of being married to a controversial leader who shuns responsibilities and tough decisions. He arranged the luxurious travel to lectures abroad, but the public is mad at Sara. He made mistakes in appointing his aides and subordinates, and she takes the blame. The problem is not the jacket she wore in her self-justification interview on Channel 2 and not her hairdo, but her appearing in public. By coming on to the screen in prime time, Sara accept the responsibility. Instead of the prime minister coming on air to defend the dry-cleaning sprees and the private jets, he is briefing "behind closed doors" and she, without real media experience, is thrown into the ring to please the crowds.
This isn't fair. Netanyahu is the one accountable to the public, not Sara. He should be required to explain, not her. But what can we do, we're used to the wife being guilty and the husband being the victim. After all, this is what broke up the Beatles.
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