After the shock, the astonishment and the disbelief fade, sadness remains. Sorrow over the fate of the hard-bitten workers who try to support themselves in dignity at an ostensibly desirable, glamorous job and find themselves trapped in a house of horrors out of a Stephen King novel. Also remaining is the shame at the fact that these horrors are happening in an official residence that belongs to the public as a whole and that is supposed to signal honor, glory and proper government, a paragon of personal conduct, and that in the last nine years has become a hotbed of methodical, unrestrained abuse of the staff.
The story related in the lawsuit by the young ultra-Orthodox woman who worked in the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, as published in Friday’s Yedioth Ahronoth, is unbelievable, a few levels above what we have, sadly, grown accustomed to.
The attempt to challenge the plaintiff’s credibility by sending lawyers and submissive politicians such as Likud's Miri Regev and David Bitan to the media on Friday night was undercut on Saturday night with the publication of text messages the dishonored employee sent to her sister in real time. Her lawyers were more than ready. They didn’t fire all their ammunition in the newspaper, nor in the TV studios of the Friday night shows.
Everything has already been said – and more has been hinted at – about Sara Netanyahu. The statements pouring from the Prime Minister’s Residence suggest a woman with major issues. She is a “clean freak,” as her husband once told someone, but at levels that are light years from what the expression generally connotes.
Her rages over the tiniest things have been documented not only in the stories of employees but also in audio recordings. This is not for the faint of heart. After reviewing the situation over Benjamin Netanyahu’s four terms as prime minister, a total of 20 years from 1996 to 1999 and since 2009, it is clear that there has been an escalation, that the symptoms have worsened. The alleged “issue” is not being treated.
And who really fell out of their chair when they read the nauseating description of Yair Netanyahu, the couple’s eldest son, running a finger along a high beam in the house and calling out, “Mom, Mom, come look, they didn’t clean here.” Now we know what the 26-year-old loafer who sponges off the state does when he’s not cleaning up after his dog or tapping out posts in support of anti-Semites on social media.
Young Israelis don’t remember those distant days when life in the prime minister’s official residence was calm. Its occupants weren’t being sued, hair-raising tales were not published in the media and verdicts confirming unfair conditions and cruel behavior toward employees were not issued.
Who remembers Aliza Olmert, Nava Barak, Sonia Peres, Leah Rabin, Shulamit Shamir, Aliza Begin and those who came before them? Was there ever a time when the wife of the prime minister did not inspire headlines reminiscent of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” or did we only dream it?
These questions have been asked before, and yet may we wonder: How can the prime minister of the most stressed-out country in the world function in this atmosphere, in these conditions? As someone who spends more than a little of his time at the official residence (he has an office there with a red telephone and everything), can he claim ignorance? Why can’t he find the moral fiber to intervene?
Instead, particularly in the past two years, he seems like his wife’s subordinate. His Facebook page is dedicated to her issues. Political conventions focus on “the missus.” Knesset members defend her, attack her critics and blast the media on her behalf, as if that’s why they were elected. Lawyers engage in protecting her from employees’ lawsuits around the clock. All of this was ratcheted up after the missus was slapped with a harsh verdict in labor court in the suit by former residence caretaker Meni Naftali. At the next party convention the prime minister is sure to claim that Sara is a treasure to him, the people and the nation. But from the outside, she looks like an ongoing burden and an embarrassment.
Netanyahu’s political rivals have no cause for celebration. The latest affair isn’t a tiebreaker. A decision has already been made to prosecute the missus, after a hearing and a court has twice found that she mistreated employees. This case won’t tip the scales. On one hand, it increases people’s revulsion with the wife of the prime minister. On the other hand, it will fan the flames of the claims of persecution from the Netanyahus and their supporters.
The insanity at the Prime Minister’s Residence found expression on all fronts: On Saturday night it was announced that Likud figures will insist on discussing (in violation of an agreement between Likud and Habayit Hayehudi) the so-called French Law, which is supposed to rescue the serial suspect Benjamin Netanyahu from the narrowing jaws of police investigation, in Sunday’s session of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.
The supposed reason, according to the aftermath of the briefing session in the Friday newspapers, is that the bill died an unnatural death. Coalition whip David Bitan blames the leaders of Habayit Hayehudi. In a questionable retaliatory operation, he is threatening, as noted above, to submit the bill to a vote on Sunday. The “briefings” was a flimsy excuse. All of the political actors are aware that the decision is the product of a rough weekend in the residential wing.
The same unbalancing that took place in the house where decisions are made also led to Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev’s being named acting prime minister for the brief period in which Netanyahu was under mild sedation for a medical procedure. That was some statement: During a weekend in which Regev went after President Reuven Rivlin as no cabinet member has ever done, and groveled before Sara Netanyahu at a birthday party for her husband – again, as no other cabinet minister did – she was rewarded, and in cash.
Public opinion polls reported on channels 2 and 10 did not bring good news for the right in general and Netanyahu in particular. Most Israelis didn’t like the French Law, the “sourpuss speech” and the attacks on the judicial establishment. Likud lost over 10 percent of its strength. With numbers like these, one doesn’t call early elections, but one can take solace in a long trip, including a weekend (maybe the missus demanded it?) in London, where, as the song goes, the television is better and the despair is more comfortable.
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