From Camelot to Spamalot: Why Mrs. Netanyahu Is No Jackie Kennedy

When the prime minister's wife gave a tour of her harsh living conditions, she proved nothing more than how out of touch she is with Israeli reality.

Ilan Manor
Ilan Manor
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A screenshot of the clip, depicting Sara Netanyahu with Moshik Galamin.
A screenshot of the clip, depicting Sara Netanyahu with Moshik Galamin.
Ilan Manor
Ilan Manor

Upon entering the White House in 1961, Jacqueline Kennedy began a lengthy project aimed at restoring historical furniture used by former presidents and their families. Her ambition was to create a White House that told the story of the nation it represented. In order to avoid political controversy of using public funds to renovate her new home, Mrs. Kennedy published the White House's first official guidebook, which was sold to visitors to finance the historical restoration.

In 1962, with her project near completion, Mrs. Kennedy agreed to give a televised tour of the new White House. The tour was viewed by a record 56 million viewers. It was Mrs. Kennedy's elegance coupled with splendor of her restoration that further cemented the fairytale perception of the Kennedy White House as a modern day Camelot.

Recently, Mrs. Netanyahu gave an on-camera tour of the Israeli prime minister's residence. This tour was not meant to exhibit the residence's historic significance, but rather its decrepit state. Viewers of Mrs. Netanyahu's tour were not only denied Jacqueline Kennedy's elegance and eloquence but were also subjected to a rather ludicrous portrayal of the prime minister's humble abode. This was a result the dissonance between the tour's general message and the public perception of the Netanyahu family.

Bibi and Sara are known for having an affinity for the finer things in life. In addition to their villa along the exclusive Caesarea coastline, their lavish lifestyle supposedly includes spending exorbitant sums of money on hairdressing, makeup and scented candles, and ordering meals from exclusive Jerusalem restaurants and hotels. Given their custom of "puttin' on the Ritz," Mrs. Netanyahu's attempt to illustrate the couple's harsh living conditions at the prime minister's official residence seemed almost comical, as though she were satirizing herself in one of her husband's viral campaign videos.

At times, Mrs. Netanyahu's tour seemed to be completely detached from reality. After all, Sara was asking Israelis to take pity on her for the harsh conditions she must endure on a daily basis; conditions that include a torn carpet, a rusty door handle and an outdated kitchen. At a time when many Israelis are struggling to make ends meet and home ownership seems to most like a distant dream, Mrs. Netanyahu's plea only demonstrated the extent to which she and her husband are out of touch with Israeli reality.

After six consecutive years in the prime minister's residence, the Netanyahus seem to be an island entire of themselves.

But above all, Mrs. Netanyahu's tour was unconvincing. On his Facebook profile, the prime minister proclaimed that he invited a designer to provide his "professional, objective and impartial" opinion on the residence's condition. Yet Moshik Galamin's gushing over the Prime Minister and his wife and his horror at the conditions in which they live left viewers with the feeling that they were watching a carefully constructed campaign advertisement. In the age of reality television, this video proved yet again that televised reality is anything but real.

Sara's tour of the prime minister's residence was supposed to fend off allegations raised in the State Comptroller's report regarding the Netanyahus' squandering of public funds on their own comfort. Yet it seems that the film achieved the very opposite effect, further cementing the perception of the Netanyahu premiership as a modern day Spamalot, a satirical reality in which the affluent are poor, the powerful are powerless and luxury is confused with austerity. And it is only because they exist in this Spamalot that the Netanyahus dare ask Israelis to pity them.

Sara Netanyahu is right in asserting that the prime minister's official residence should reflect the status of its inhabitant. She may also be right in affirming that the residence is in dire need of maintenance. Yet one has to wonder why the Netanyahus haven't properly attended to the prime minister's residence over the past six years. Has the government denied them the necessary funds or have they chosen to spend such funds on the intoxicating aroma of vanilla scented candles and pistachio flavored ice-cream? Had they attended to the residence in Balfour Street as one can assume they attended to their private home in Caesarea, we might all have been spared Mr. Galamin's docu-drama. And what does their ineptness at keeping a house say about their ability to run a state?

Like Jacqueline Kennedy, Mrs. Netanyahu could have taken on this important project and secured the funds necessary for the residence's maintenance in a creative way that does not depend on public funds. Unfortunately, she seems to be preoccupied with receiving reimbursements for empty bottles of wine.

Ilan Manor is concluding his Mass Media Studies at Tel Aviv University. He has previously contributed to The Jerusalem Post, The Jewish Daily Forward and +972 Magazine. He blogs at www.digdipblog.com and tweets at @Ilan_Manor.

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