The siege of the beauty salon by protesters on Wednesday night, accompanied by chants of “shame, shame,” shone a spotlight on Ms Netanyahu, a divisive figure long linked to her husband’s political career.
She has drawn scorn for a reputation for living a lavish lifestyle at the taxpayers’ expense – an image only bolstered by her decision to get her hair done in the center of a town wracked by unrest that turned violent on Wednesday for the first time .
The Israelis have also accused Ms. Netanyahu, a former flight attendant turned educational psychologist, of exercising undue influence over Netanyahu, pressuring him for political appointments and political issues.
Here is an overview of what made Netanyahu‘s wife so controversial for almost three decades in the political arena.
HEY, BIG DEPENDOR
Ms Netanyahu, 64, has caused a stir over the years for allegedly embezzling public funds, overspending on household expenses and pocketing gifts from world leaders, among other things. In 2019, she agreed to a plea bargain to settle charges that she misused $100,000 of public funds to order lavish meals from celebrity chefs at the Prime Minister’s official residence, even though she already had cooks at government pay. She also found herself embroiled in Netanyahu’s corruption trial, which precipitated the country’s years-long political crisis.
In exchange for political favors, Netanyahu reportedly accepted gifts from billionaire friends that included tens of thousands of dollars in cases of champagne and extravagant jewelry for Mrs. Netanyahu, and made behind-the-scenes deals with newspaper editors aimed at securing a more favorable cover from his wife. He denies any wrongdoing. More recently, a parliamentary committee approved new spending for the Netanyahus, including an increase of thousands of dollars each year in clothing and makeup expenses for Ms. Netanyahu.
“The general feeling is that they are a very greedy couple,” said Israeli journalist Amir Oren. “There’s a kind of Marie Antoinette vibe.”
Over the years, Ms Netanyahu’s housekeeper has consistently accused her of explosive tirades and mistreatment. In one instance, a leaked phone conversation surfaced in which Ms Netanyahu yelled at her publicist about how a gossip column failed to mention her degrees. In another, the family’s nanny said Ms Netanyahu fired her for burning a pot of soup and throwing her on the sidewalk without her clothes or passport.
Two domestic workers have won damages in lawsuits accusing Ms Netanyahu of making their lives miserable. During court testimony, one revealed Ms Netanyahu’s taste for pink champagne and other expensive luxuries. Over the years, friends and staff have shared tales of Ms Netanyahu’s extreme outbursts and unhealthy obsession with cleanliness. Netanyahu’s family have described themselves as the victims of a press war. They brought a libel suit against Ehud Olmert, a former prime minister, after he called them “mentally ill”.
CALLING THE SHOT?
Critics of Netanyahu’s family have accused Ms Netanyahu of interfering in the prime minister’s decision-making. Former officials recently testified in court that Ms. Netanyahu exerted undue influence over senior security appointments. In January, a retired general testified that Ms Netanyahu interviewed him for 45 minutes for the post of military secretary to the prime minister, after Netanyahu left the room. “For some years there has not been an appointment of a senior official who has not been interviewed or influenced by Sara,” said Gayil Talchirprofessor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
She has been accused of pushing Netanyahu further to the right and contributing to his government’s determination to overhaul the country’s justice system – a plan that has sparked some of the biggest protests in Israel’s history and sparked widespread condemnation from Israeli society and around the world.
Given her past legal troubles, critics say she has as much of a stake in the government’s plan to weaken the justice system as her husband. Mrs. Netanyahu and her son, Yair – similarly a lightning rod for controversy – have repeatedly incited against Israel’s “elites” – the media, bureaucrats, officials. Netanyahu insists that his wife stay away from affairs of state.
BAD HAIR DAY
Due to Ms Netanyahu’s public profile, the opposition argues that she is not merely a first lady – but rather a legitimate political target for the protest movement. Yair Golana former general and former deputy of the Meretz party, told Kan radio that “with all due respect, Sara Netanyahu is a political figure” and is involved in appointments and key decisions.
Yet the dramatic scenes of police forces, intelligence services and helicopters being called in to extract Ms Netanyahu from her hairdressing appointment changed the course of “the day of disruption”. she returned home safe and sound and warned that such “lawlessness” would result in death.
The incident, which grabbed headlines even after police shocked the country by firing water cannons, stun grenades and tear gas at pro-democracy protesters, has once again revealed that Netanyahu was a master political manipulator, Talshir said. “He managed to play it well, projecting his wife as the real victim of yesterday’s protest,” she said. “But from the perspective of the protesters, Sara was crucial in dividing the country and turning it towards autocracy.”