Opinion |

Sara Netanyahu - Not a Cinderella Story

Not even a fluff radio interview with a reality TV star can make the Israeli prime minister’s wife into a sympathetic character

Ariana Melamed
Ariana Melamed
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Sara Netanyahu, second from right, and Melania Trump walking with their husbands, U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, before a dinner at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017.
Sara Netanyahu, second from right, and Melania Trump walking with their husbands, U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, before a dinner at the Prime Minister's ResCredit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Ariana Melamed
Ariana Melamed

When Sara Netanyahu was a student she cleaned offices. This sensational scoop is a tidbit from an interview with Nicol Raidman that will be aired on Radius 100FM at 2 P.M. on Friday.

Netanyahu even cleaned floors, sinks and toilets, imagine that. “Nearly twice a week,” she tells Raidman, she toiled at this exhausting work, leaving a shine so bright that, in her words, one could “eat off the floor.”

Why share this information? Because of the hostile media, of course. “It’s interesting no one ever came to ask about it, I say it’s incredible, as opposed to all the fictions they tell,” says the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sara Netanyahu’s rather ordinary student job would be relevant to those who never “thought to ask” in only two circumstances. One, were it the story of someone who grew up poor and became wealthy due to hard work. That is not the case. Two, if this were a Cinderella story.

But Sara Netanyahu was not a maltreated stepsister and stepdaughter, forced to be a cleaning slave, when she met the former Likud prince. She was an El Al flight attendant with a graduate degree who had divorced her husband after seven years of marriage. Why would any of “them” care about what she had done almost twice a week as a student? Why is that more interesting than the lives of thousands of women who work as cleaners every day?

The answer, if you ask Netanyahu, is in the subtext and the context, not the words themselves. All the media consultants in the world couldn’t turn her into a fluent, articulate interviewee, or someone who can formulate and deliver an organized, well-supported argument. The hidden claim is: The media attack me in order to bring down my husband. That’s why they fabricate all these tales about my love of luxury, abuse of employees; stories about patio furniture, an electrician, public funds and aggravated circumstances. While I, humility incarnate, retain the moral right of someone who, some 35 years ago, cleaned toilets nearly twice a week.

There are a few problems with this argument. First, it’s not the media. It was the courts that deliberated on the abuse of Meni Naftali and ruled that it had indeed occurred. It was the police, the state prosecution and the attorney general that investigated, and according to reports an indictment is imminent. Second, what does that have to do with a biographical footnote? Does having polished toilet bowls as a young woman grant Sara Netanyahu immunity or exemption from any mention of alleged corruption? Does it grant her some moral standing or cancel out the deliveries from friends of pink champagne?

The media are indeed interested in her, to the same extent that they are interested in royal families anywhere. It’s part of the territory that Netanyahu, with determination but not with sensitivity, elbows her way into, in her efforts to be photographed at every official reception with foreign dignitaries from Donald Trump to the president of Togo. The actions and failures of those who push themselves are examined with a magnifying glass, of course. That’s the price, and Netanyahu doesn’t like paying it.

A long trail of statements from current and former officials paints a sorry picture of meddling in state affairs, angry outbursts, obsessions, abuse and divorced-from-reality arrogance founded on an attitude of assumed privilege.

In the conversation with Raidman, which is farther from journalism than Netanyahu is from Cinderella, perhaps she has earned that privilege. But not in genuine journalism, which asks real questions and expects relevant answers. Absolutely not.

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