Immediately after U.S. President Donald Trump landed at Ben-Gurion Airport, Sara Netanyahu hastened to inform him and his wife, Melania, that “in Israel all the people like us. The media hate us but the people love us.” Trump replied that they had something in common.
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In truth, they do have something in common: Most of the public, in America and in Israel, actually doesn’t like them. Trump trailed the losing candidate, Hillary Clinton, by three million votes, and upon taking office, he enjoyed the support of just 40 percent of Americans – the lowest figure for any American president ever on the eve of his inauguration.
As for Netanyahu, in his peak electoral achievement, he led his Likud party to 30 seats, and that was even after he managed to get several seats’ worth of Habayit Hayehudi voters to switch over to him on the eve of the election. In other words, just a quarter of the public gave him its votes. Since the election, his public image has only further eroded, not to mention the public’s attitude toward his wife and her behavior.
If the Netanyahus really want to understand one of the key factors behind the loathing many Israelis have for them, they would be well advised to look not at the media, but at their adoption of the nauseating practices of an imperial court. These practices were on prominent display during the presidential visit, and can be summed up in one brief picture-book story.
Here’s the first picture: an official photograph from the Trump-Netanyahu dinner sent out by the Government Press Office. As everyone recalls, the encounter began with embarrassing small talk about the poor condition of the prime minister’s official residence and continued with the introduction of the Netanyahus’ son, Yair, to the president and his wife. This was a continuation of the family’s incessant efforts to build up Yair as a crown prince, as if Israel had a monarchical system of government.
The limits of chutzpah and bad taste have been crossed in this realm as well over the past two years. The younger Netanyahu receives gifts and indulgences from Australian billionaire James Packer, his father’s friend; he joined his father’s working visit to Washington; he was even presented as a future candidate for Likud’s Knesset ticket at the party’s last Likudiada conference in Eilat (where, embarrassingly, he came in 35th in a mock primary). Yet as readers will recall, he is a young man of 25 who doesn’t work for a living and continues to live in his parents’ house at the taxpayer’s expense – including, of course, round-the-clock security guards and even a government car and driver.
After the dinner with Trump, Yair proudly posted a picture of himself sitting at the table, on Instagram. The official photograph of the event, which includes chef Segev Moshe, also shows a fifth diner – Netanyahu junior. Moshe, incidentally, is the husband of Sandra Ringler, Sara Netanyahu’s personal stylist. That’s how things work in our modern-day imperial court. There’s no more shame, not even the pretense of it.
Last week, I asked the Prime Minister’s Office some simple questions: Why did Yair Netanyahu join the official dinner with Trump? What is his position or function, and based on what protocol did the Netanyahus see fit to seat him at the table?
Netanyahu’s bureau twisted and turned for quite a long time over these questions and sought to refer them to other parties. Perhaps they see this issue as a hot potato; perhaps they had no good answers; perhaps they, too, are sick of serving full-time at the Netanyahu family’s imperial court.
In the end, I was told on the family’s behalf that Yair Netanyahu didn’t take part in the dinner; he just emerged from his room for a moment at the end to say goodbye to the guests (dressed, purely by chance, in a suit and tie, right?). The same story was repeated on Twitter on Friday by the Netanyahu family’s official and endlessly devoted mouthpiece, Jonatan Urich, Yair Netanyahu’s good friend from the days when they risked their lives in the international department of the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit. Urich is now a new-media employee in the prime minister’s court.
But the picture clearly shows that the table is set for five, and that a full set of dishes and silverware was placed before Yair Netanyahu. Oops. One thing is certain: If he were only there for a moment, he would have had to finish his meal at top speed, in severe violation of the aristocratic table manners that have been instilled in him. How unpleasant.
Urich tried to respond by harping on “Haaretz’s hypocrisy,” since at roughly the same time the paper submitted its questions about Yair Netanyahu, it published a piece by President Reuven Rivlin’s daughter, Anat, about how she and her mother met with Trump’s wife and daughter. The same accusation was recycled by other well-known Netanyahu family pets, like the News 0404 website and a bloke called Ivgeni Zarubinski, who defines himself as a “satirist and internet personality.”
But as usual, they dug a hole for themselves. Anat Rivlin was specifically invited for a four-person meeting between the American president’s wife and daughter and the Israeli president’s wife and daughter. In contrast, Yair Netanyahu was thrust, in violation of accepted norms, into an official dinner between two heads of government.
The moral is that even to fudge, you have to know something, and even to counterattack, it helps to have a real case. Otherwise, you’ll simply add more petty embarrassments to the overriding one.
Incidentally, the picture of Netanyahu junior and the fifth plate is from the dessert course. And in conclusion, it’s worth focusing for a moment on that dessert, for anyone who by some chance hasn’t yet seen it.
You’ll notice that the diners were served a gilded dessert shaped like the profiles of Netanyahu and Trump on a chessboard (chess, of course, is the game of kings). It turns out there’s no limit to bad taste, megalomania and fawning – all, naturally, on their subjects’ tab. Bon appetit.