Either the Prime Minister’s Residence is a terrible place to work, or it’s the perfect workplace for extortionists. Now it seems that a former maintenance supervisor at Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence is seeking to meet with the state comptroller to file a complaint over nonpayment of wages. The Prime Minister’s Office has responded with a letter to the man’s lawyer, saying, “We categorically reject your threats. It’s clear that the background of these threats is the prime minister’s public position and an attempt to exploit it to your client’s advantage, but it is our obligation to safeguard the public’s money and your threats will not lead us to pay your client money unlawfully.”
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Netanyahu and his wife and children have justified expectations that their privacy will be respected, and that discretion in the normal, if not necessarily legal, sense will be observed. But their aggressive responses to salary demands by their household help undermine the norm of respect for a person’s privacy.
How many more times will we hear about the couple’s run-ins with employees who claim that they haven’t been fully paid, and how many times will the bone of contention be “overtime,” and how many times will we read that the prime minister and his wife feel threatened? Could it be that Netanyahu is constantly being blackmailed, starting from the purported video documenting “personal affairs” in 1993, though the housekeeper in Caesarea, Lillian Peretz, who was accused by Sara Netanyahu of conducting a “slanderous, malicious, and cruel media campaign of revenge,” and continuing with this latest incident?
Let’s assume for a moment that indeed, the bedrooms, laundry rooms and dining rooms in the Netanyahus’ homes are particularly attractive to blackmailers, who clean with one hand and cook up schemes with the other, helped by shrewd lawyers just waiting for the next juicy affair to bring them publicity. Can’t the prime minister’s team at this stage of the game weed out these potential blackmailers?
And isn’t it the public obligation of the prime minister, his wife and their legal advisers to raise the level of discourse and avoid using violent expressions implying that the way their household help deal with them borders on criminal? What can one say about a man who constantly claims that he is surrounded by opportunists who threaten and exploit him because of his public position?
In recent years the Netanyahu family homes have turned into a fascinating metaphor for the pursuit of honor and an attempt to fashion an “official style.” But it seems as if the harder Netanyahu and his wife try to get respect, the more it eludes them. “After all, we’re talking about an empty house, she was cooking for only four people,” Sara Netanyahu explained in July 2012, when the dispute with Peretz over unpaid overtime was still in court, and long before it became known that the water bill in Caesarea for that same year of “only four people” was 81,263 shekels ($23,138).
The discourse in their environment is saturated with insults and disingenuous victimhood, which implies that the problem is essentially the inability of the other, the employee – who is meant to be eternally grateful for the chance to serve them -- to cope with the enormity of the position. There’s no real difference between their claims and the childish attitude of “they’re just jealous.”
It seems as if the Israeli experience and Netanyahu - who has been in office longer than any other prime minister except Ben-Gurion – have become one. It’s as if he embodies in his personality the culture of dialogue that typifies public servants and some celebrities here: They’re jealous of him, they’re trying to extort him, they’re taking from him.
It’s always them. It’s never him.