Opinion |

An Ode to the Prime Minister's Wife, Gilat Bennett

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
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Naftali Bennett and his wife Gilat casting their ballots in the March election.
Naftali Bennett and his wife Gilat casting their ballots in the March election.Credit: Hadas Parush
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

When Gilat Bennett decides to travel overseas, contrary to the recommendations of her husband, who happens to be the prime minister, she is exercising her right as a free citizen – especially given the fact that she has not violated any laws. By the way, we would like to point out here that the role of a prime minister is to decide and instruct; recommendations, however, are good for those of us who have no authority.

The absurd thing is that, on one hand, the Israeli public despaired of the previous prime minister’s wife, who would interfere in the matters of state presided over by her husband, including in the appointment of ministers and senior officials – but on the other hand, he (that is, the previous prime minister) gets all riled up when the wife of his successor essentially says, by her behavior: “I am not a symbol of power, neither for good nor bad. I am a simple citizen. I heard the prime minister recommend that we should not travel overseas, and it is my right to decide whether to listen to him or not. I have my own considerations, and I am prepared to pay the cost of my decision” (in this case, we are talking about quarantine and a clash with public opinion). 

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Here is the place to note that a person is his or her opinions, and if they act contrary to their opinions, they are not the same person. Should someone not be themselves in order to satisfy public opinion?

Gilat Bennett’s decision thus presages the end of an era. Not only the era of Benjamin Netanyahu, but that of all previous prime ministers. And just as she does not demand that her husband act according to the considerations and constraints of her job (I have no idea what she does) – he too, despite his lofty position, will not bend his wife’s desires to the obligations of his job. The other upshot of Gilat Bennett’s decision to go abroad is that she gives us, the citizens, a green light – so that as long as there is no official prohibition regarding a certain act, for example, traveling overseas, then we as citizens have the right to exercise our own considerations. In other words, to be free and thinking citizens.

Moreover, according to the patriarchal, male-chauvinist perception, if Naftali Bennett cannot persuade his wife about something, how can he persuade the public? The hidden assumption behind this is that a woman must “be convinced” lest she put her husband to shame in public. This assumption contains within it an ugly premise: A woman may believe in a particular cause, but in public she is required to present a position that’s different to the one she believes in. Why? What purpose does that serve? Certainly not realization of truth.

This isn’t only a matter involving the prime minister and his wife; it is also a matter between a run-of-the-mill husband and his run-of-the-mill wife. “He can’t even persuade his wife to vote for such and such a party,” people complain, as if the husband’s very manliness has been hurt. But what is the problem here? A woman has an opinion and her spouse has another opinion. What does manliness have to do with it?

In a way even public opinion has turned against Gilat Bennett’s “act,” because she has hurt her husband’s manliness. It transpires that manliness and leadership, according to the prevailing psychology, are the same. It appears that deep down, the general view is that if Bennett cannot convince his wife, his manliness, and thus his leadership are cast in doubt. I suggest to all the opinion writers and pundits, and to all those who gloated over Gilat Bennett’s stand – and the subsequent response of her husband, the prime minister – that they see it all as an important junction on the road to a deeper understanding of gender, citizenship and freedom of the individual.

I am not one of Naftali Bennett’s disciples, and I am as far as could possibly be from his nationalist philosophy. I am also not familiar with Gilat Bennett’s opinions, but the way they behaved last week was worthy and, I would say, even natural. Each and every citizen should be able to express his or her positions without any constraints stemming from their status or role. That is much healthier for society, and for the truth.

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