The Controversial Celebrity Socialite Who Lives Large With the Netanyahus

Sara Netanyahu's gal pal Nicol Raidman is being criticized for forcing a wad of cash into the hands of a protesting woman in a wheelchair - not the first time the Ukrainian reality TV star has come under fire

The Trump White House has demonstrated that reality-show celebrity-billionaire excess and populist politics don’t always mix. But Nicol Raidman, a 31-year-old Ukrainian-Israeli luxury-boutique owner, aspiring singer, star of the Israeli version of “Real Housewives” and Sara Netanyahu’s close friend, doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo.   

Raidman found herself in a controversy this week after forcing a wad of cash into the hand of a woman in a wheelchair taking part in a demonstration outside the prime minister’s residence; the activists were protesting government policies on the disabled. Hannah Akiva, the recipient of Raidman’s largesse, took to the airwaves following the incident, calling the spontaneous donation “humiliating” and “embarrassing,” and saying the encounter felt like a preplanned publicity stunt.

Raidman insisted otherwise, saying her gesture was indeed spontaneous and purehearted. She also posted a lengthy anguished defense on her Instagram page with no shortage of exclamation points.  

At the Netanyahus’ official residence, Akiva and the other protesters have been angrily blocking the entrance, shaking the fence and demanding that the first couple come out and hear their case — that state benefits for the disabled match the minimum wage. When Raidman pulled up in a Mercedes as she tried to visit Sara Netanyahu, it’s unclear whether she expected to be blocked by the protesters or whether the run-in was a chance encounter.

Whichever the case, Raidman stopped the car and — unlike the first couple — stopped to listen to the demonstrators. She nodded sympathetically as they told their stories, bending over to meet the gaze of those who sat in wheelchairs. She said she was so moved hearing Akiva’s woes that she not only hugged her but opened her purse and pressed the equivalent of $500 into Akiva's hand. A video from one media outlet on the scene shows demonstrators shouting to Akiva “Don’t take it!” “Throw it on the ground!” and “That money should be coming from the government, not from her!”

Her own fragrance

On Instagram, Raidman insisted that her gesture was heartfelt and spontaneous. “I felt like I tried to help in an openhearted way and got spit in the face as a result! My husband and I donate all the time quietttllly!” she wrote in Hebrew.

“To the needy, to soldiers, to children, to the sick, to nonprofits and rabbis and anyone it is possible to help! A woman who sits in a wheelchair and tells me that she’s the mother of a soldier and doesn’t even have enough money for basic hygiene products because she has no money?? Tell me, who, who among you wouldn’t hear that and pull out your wallet and give her whatever you have there??”

Sara Netanyahu at the birthday party of celebrity socialite Nicol Raidman, June 2017.
YouTube channel of Guy Pines

Raidman, who at various junctures has worked as a model and boutique owner, is also a socialite and celebrity best known for flaunting her lavish lifestyle and delighting in luxuries for two seasons on the reality show “Me’usharot,” which like “Real Housewives” follows the foibles of a group of extremely wealthy women.

In Raidman’s case, her expansive resources come courtesy of her life partner, Russian-Israeli billionaire Michael Cherney, with whom she has two children. She arrived in Israel from Ukraine in 1996 and worked in a toy shop, as a makeup artist and as a production assistant before meeting Cherney. After her relationship with Cherney boosted her into the media spotlight as a socialite, she opened her store Madame de Pompadour in 2011 and two years later premiered a fragrance by the same name.

That year, in a Los Angeles Times article about wealthy Israelis, she said, “When I come back from a visit to Moscow, I think Israel is still a village. But it is starting to change. Russians are showing Israelis how to enjoy life and how to enjoy money.”

Quid pro quo

In recent years, Raidman has been in the headlines due to her proximity to Sara Netanyahu, for whom she’s an unpaid stylist and publicity agent, not to mention a much younger gal pal. The relationship is mutually beneficial. The prime minister’s wife often wears Raidman’s outfits in public, while Raidman invites Sara to glitzy parties. Raidman also gave her an image-boosting radio interview where Netanyahu spoke of her humble beginnings as a student worker cleaning offices.

In the midst of a controversy over Sara Netanyahu’s household spending, Raidman posted on Instagram a video of the kitchen in the prime minister’s residence, saying she was “shocked” at the disrepair: the mold, mildew, malfunctioning oven and other “third-word conditions,” as she called them.  

“For this I pay taxes?” she asked. “Is there no shame? I’m embarrassed.”

Cherney, meanwhile, also makes the headlines frequently, but for different reasons. The tycoon who made his fortune in aluminum is close to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and has been plagued by some of the corruption scandals that have hit the Soviet-born politician. In 2010, an international arrest warrant was issued for Cherney amid suspicions of money laundering in Spain. Three years ago, a U.S. court ordered him to pay $270 million to fellow businessman Alexander Gliklad, ruling in a contract dispute between the two.

Raidman, meanwhile, is also an aspiring singer. Her personal website promises an album and features videos of her performances at events like the unveiling of her new perfume.