Analysis |

What Sara Netanyahu's Embarrassing Indictment Means for Her Husband

The Israeli prime minister's wife rejected the lifeline handed to her by the attorney general. The indictment offers insight into what we might expect in the heavier cases pending against the Netanyahus

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu.
Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu.Credit: \ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Sara Netanyahu has long been a synonym for all those traits that parents with values would raise their kids to avoid. These include tight-fistedness, self-indulgence, exploitation, malice, abusing the weak, rudeness and aggression extending at times to violence. It’s regrettable, it’s depressing, and it’s not what we would wish upon ourselves. But there it is.

These symptoms are occasionally corroborated by evidence such as a recording, reliable testimonies of staff members – survivors of the Balfour Street inferno whom the court believed, or by undenied versions of people who had witnessed the last event Haaretz reported on – Sara’s attempt to physically attack the outgoing director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Eli Groner, with a pen.

Surprisingly or not, all this has not even scratched the surface of her husband, Benjamin Netanyahu’s popularity, stability and political power. Political figures believe that the Sara problem is already embodied in the Netanyahu brand. One more discovery, one more testimony, one more verdict, one more horror cassette won’t change a thing.

Bibi is Bibi and Sara is Sara. On the face of it, they are two separate entities. If anything, Bibi is treated with pity, understanding and empathy combined with admiration: how is he capable of functioning, running a state and navigating a sensitive security situation when every night he has to come home to that atmosphere, people tell each other at dinner conversations.

The indictment against the prime minister’s wife that was filed to the court on Thursday after a prolonged delay unfolds in dry but very palpable language the web of deceit spun in the prime minister’s residence in the years 2010-2013. This development, which was expected, won’t even scratch the defensive coat surrounding Netanyahu.

The charge sheet says that the lady of the house, together with then deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Ezra Saidoff, her devoted confidant, were occupied from morning to night with designing shady, shabby plots to shift the family’s expenses onto the state’s.

What were those expenses for? Not charity, not state needs, not worthy causes, heaven forbid. They were for gourmet food, for inviting “chefs,” for serial takeaway orders from luxury restaurants, for employing hand-picked waiters. The pink Champagne lady, the expensive-but-free Jewelry lady simply knew no bounds or satiation. Allegedly, of course.

The descriptions in the charge sheet are simply offensive. Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu are, as is commonly known, millionaires. But it wouldn’t occur to them to put their hand into their own pocket, take out a credit card and pay the difference for their own dinners or for their friends.

They believe, religiously, that the almighty in heaven sent them to save Israel from destruction. He as a leader and she as his helpmate. To ask them to pay for a good meal at the end of the day, after Mr. Netanyahu comes home from his office and feels like a special delicacy that the residence cook isn’t experienced in preparing, is chutzpah, impertinence. They are convinced of it.

This sentiment, together with morbid miserliness, are the underlying basis for the charges against the prime minister’s wife. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit took a very long time to instruct the prosecution to file an indictment to Jerusalem’s Magistrate’s Court. He went out of his way to avoid it. He held prolonged negotiations with the defendant’s lawyers, in a bid to persuade her to return the money stolen from the state’s coffers.

But the lifeline he kindly handed her was left swinging. Sara agreed to return a small part of the sum. She always deserves change, the lady. She insisted on it. Maybe the defendant’s lawyers thought Mendelblit wouldn’t dare to go so far as to file an indictment. When they found out in the last few days that he had decided to do so, they resumed their efforts to get a deal, but it was too late.

The long time, more than two years, that elapsed since the police handed their recommendations regarding Sara Netanyahu to this day, shows what we may expect in the heavy cases – the ones pertaining to the so-called expensive gifts, the Yedioth-Ahronoth-Israel-Hayom case and the Bezeq-Walla case, in which the couple, or the prime minster alone, are suspects.

If Mendelblit had difficulty making a decision in a case dealing with meals and small-time fraud, which should really have been closed with Sara Netanyahu returning the money and paying an appropriate fine, he certainly won’t hurry to make a move that could bring down the government and dismiss a prime minister.

Thursday wasn’t an easy day for the residents of the house on Balfour Street in the capital. At midday the “Jewish people,” represented by the heads of the Jewish organizations in the United States, handed an indictment against the prime minister – not criminal but public – by picking Isaac Herzog as chairman of the Jewish Agency. An hour later, the State of Israel filed a charge sheet against the prime minister’s wife.

Who wouldn’t want to be a fly on the wall in the residence’s private division, as it’s customary to say? Well, flies beware. The walls there aren’t the safest place for them.

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