The scene signaled a grave national emergency — dozens of riot police charged through the streets of Tel Aviv as crowds of anti-government protesters howled and roared. Their mission: to rescue Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife from a swanky salon where she was getting her hair done.
The protesters’ Wednesday night siege of the beauty parlor, accompanied by chants of “shame, shame,” cast a spotlight on Sara Netanyahu, a divi-sive figure long intertwined with her husband’s political career.
She has drawn scorn for a reputation of living a lavish lifestyle at the taxpayers’ expense — an image only reinforced by her decision to get her hair done in the center of a city wracked by unrest that turned violent Wednesday for the first time.
Israelis have also accused Netanyahu, a former air hostess turned educational psychologist, of wielding undue influence over her husband, pressur-ing him over political appointments and policy issues.
Here’s a look at what has made Sara Netanyahu so controversial over some three decades on the political stage.
Sara Netanyahu, 64, has garnered sensational headlines over the years for allegedly misappropri-ating public funds, overspending on household ex-penses and pocketing gifts from world leaders, among other things. In 2019, she accepted a plea bargain to settle accusations that she misused $100,000 in public funds to order lavish meals from celebrity chefs at the prime minister’s official resi-dence, although she already had cooks on the gov-ernment payroll. She also has become entangled in Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, which has precipitated the country’s yearslong political crisis.
In exchange for political favors, the prime min-ister allegedly accepted gifts from billionaire friends that included tens of thousands of dollars in crates of champagne and extravagant jewelry for Sara Netanyahu, and struck backroom deals with news-paper publishers aimed at scoring more favorable coverage of his wife. He denies all wrongdoing. Most recently, a parliamentary committee approved new spending money for the Netanyahus, including an increase of thousands of dollars each year in clothing and makeup expenses for Sara Netanyahu.
“The general feeling is that this is a very greedy couple,” said Israeli journalist Amir Oren. “It does have a sort of Marie Antoinette vibe.”
Over the years, Sara Netanyahu’s household help has consistently accused her of explosive tirades and mistreatment. In one case, a leaked phone conversa-tion surfaced of Netanyahu screaming at her publicist about how a gossip column omitted a mention of her educational credentials. In another, the family’s nanny said Netanyahu fired her for burning a pot of soup, kicking her onto the curb without her clothes or passport.
Two domestic workers have won damages in lawsuits accusing Netanyahu of making their lives miserable. In court testimony, one of them revealed Netanyahu’s taste for pink champagne and other expensive luxuries. Friends and staff over the years have shared accounts about Netanyahu’s extreme outbursts and unhealthy obsession with cleanliness. Netanyahu’s family has depicted themselves as the casualties of a press war. They brought a libel suit against Ehud Olmert, a former prime minister, after he described them as being “mentally ill.”—AP