The Odd Instruction Given to the Crew on Netanyahu's El Al Flight

The crew on Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu's El Al flight to Europe this week were given a list of dos and don'ts. One guideline stood out in particular

An archive photo showing Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu boarding an El Al plane in 2017.
Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

Benjamin Netanyahu goes on numerous working visits abroad. In the past two years, since the eruption of criminal investigations against him, he seems to have become a more frequent flyer than ever. His wife, Sara, always goes with him, with noteworthy devotion, other than on lightning visits of less than a day, like those to Moscow.

On Monday, the couple left for Germany, France and England. As always, El Al won the bid to fly them. The flight attendants were given a page of guidelines about how to comport themselves vis-a-vis the prime minister and his wife. A series of dos and don’ts.

Among the don’ts, one instruction stood out: Under no circumstances are you to address the prime minister directly. Every approach to him is to be made solely through his wife. If the flight attendant wishes to ask Netanyahu what he’d like to drink, whether his passion is for chicken or for beef, or whether to fill his cup with tea or coffee, he or she must direct the question to Sara, sitting next to him, at a distance of a few centimeters.

This anecdote will strike a chord with people knowledgeable about the history of the relations between Bibi and Sara. The two first met in the 1990s on an El Al flight. He was deputy foreign minister in the government of Yitzhak Shamir; she, a stewardess, “blonde with a bob haircut and shy eyes. The two exchanged a few words, no more,” as journalist Ben Caspit writes in his recently published biography of Netanyahu (in Hebrew). “During a stopover at Schiphol Airport in Holland, the flight attendant left him a note with her name and phone number Bibi called. They dated a few times. There was no great chemistry”

The chemistry problem was resolved afterward, when Sara informed the two-time divorcé that she was pregnant, and they were married. And have been together ever since. So it’s clear that the profession of flight attendant is a particularly sensitive issue, an inflamed nerve in the life of the Balfour Street family.

Netanyahu is always telling people how smart his wife is. We all know that experience is the best teacher. We can take it that it wasn’t Benjamin Netanyahu who asked El Al to instruct the female members of its cabin crew to refrain from talking to him. He’s just not that kind of guy.

For its part, El Al says that it is not its practice to comment on matters related to its passengers, for that reason, there’s no way of determining who decided that the cabin crews are in need of such guidelines.

The guidelines don’t state explicitly that the attendants are prohibited from making eye contact with the Leader, or that they must lower their eyes if, heaven forbid, their gaze crosses. In olden times, mere mortals were forbidden to look directly at the emperor. Violation of the order was liable to result in execution. We’re not there yet; maybe in another term or two in office the protocol will be honed.

A response on behalf the Netanyahu said: "This is utter nonsense in an attempt to blur the prime minister's great achievements."