Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with wife Sara in 2015. Flavio Lo Scalzo / Reuters file

Hurricane Sara: Indictments, memes and implications


1.

There are three ways to assess the worthiness of the criminal charges looming over Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Israel’s prime minister.

It is about time: Netanyahu used public funds to spoil herself and her guests by serving expensive food. She fraudulently manipulated the system to get things — worth more than $100,000 — that she does not deserve to get.

Let’s wait for the hearing: The Netanyahu family still believes, or pretends to believe, that the hearing will be the end of the long path toward exoneration. Netanyahu was investigated for several supposed misdeeds, of which only the one concerning food services survives. Netanyahu might still be able to convince the Attorney General to accept her version of the story (it’s not her fault, it’s someone else’s — if you are interested in the extremely boring details, read here).

This is all nonsense: Even if Netanyahu broke some regulations and used public funds to feed her guests with food they were not supposed to get, the whole criminal affair is an overblown political witch hunt. The police and state attorneys should look for stories more scandalous than the consumption of expensive falafel. In fact, a lot more public funds were wasted on this unworthy investigation than on the meals served by Netanyahu.

2.

There are also three ways to assess the political implications of the (probable) charges and trial of Sara Netanyahu:

He is finally gone: Yes, the charges are not against him, they are against her, but the pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu to evacuate the seat that he has occupied for so long is becoming impossible to resist. His wife will stand trial, his son (more about this later) is out of control, the country is tired of this mess, and within a short time the political system will get the message and force the PM out.

The story is not her: Nothing of much significance is going to happen here. Netanyahu has already signaled that he will not quit his job  not even if he is indicted. So, he will surely not quit his job over the charges against Sara. Will it be unpleasant? Surely, it will be. Will it be intolerable? Probably not. Sara will not go to jail because of the mishandling of food orders. She will stick around, and so will he.

This makes him stronger: The ridiculousness of the charges against Sara — one commentator sarcastically described the whole affair as the hunt after the “take-out criminal gang” — will only convince Netanyahu’s voters that the justice system is trying to topple a coalition by undemocratic means. “They” want him down? “We” will teach them a lesson and vote for him once more — for him and Sara.

3.

There are also three ways to assess the ugly tweet by Netanyahu’s son, Yair. For those of you who do not follow this naughty youngster, here is the story of his artistic post: it shows George Soros holding a fishing rod with planet Earth as bait. The bait is followed by a reptilian creature, also holding a fishing rod. Then comes a person that looks like a character from anti-Semitic caricatures, followed by former PM Ehud Barak, and then two of the Israeli activists who have been pushing for investigations against Netanyahu.

The Tweet has the look and feel of anti-Semitic propaganda — not exactly what you’d expect from the son of Israel’s prime minister. Appropriately, it won the praise of neo-Nazis and the condemnation of the Anti-Defamation League.

So what should we make out of it:

He is an idiot: His IQ is probably high, but his level of intelligence-that-counts is evidently low. If that’s the case, there is not much that can be done. Maybe his parents should tell him that, being an idiot, he should keep his views to himself. But in my experience, idiots have a tendency to share their idiocy with their fellow men and parents have a tendency to be blind to the idiocy of their offspring.

He is young: Yair Netanyahu — whom I have never met — is said to be a man of great intelligence. But he is still young and hence does not know much. He did not understand that what he is doing is anti-Semitic. He thought he was clever — and, indeed, he was clever. Too clever. Next time he will be more careful when picking images for the battles he wages against the enemies of his family (and hence of Israel’s).

He is wicked: Netanyahu the son is filled with contempt and hatred to such a degree, that he holds back no punches. He believes that Soros deserves harsh treatment and that so do Barak and the others — he thinks that they deserve the harshest treatment available. But he is just a twitterer, with no real position, power or other means of true punishment. The harshest means at his disposal is the anti-Semitic meme. So Netanyahu uses it.

4.

There are Israelis defending Sara Netanyahu, people who feel she is mistreated. I am yet to meet a serious Israeli who defends young Netanyahu’s tweet. The tweet is indefensible. He took it down, but without a proper apology.

He is not anti-Semitic. I’m almost sure of that.

He is relatively young (but no longer a child). That is a fact.

5.

The Netanyahu family drama is currently a drama of small things. It often feels like full gas in neutral. It often feels like much ado about, well, not nothing, but also not much. A misdemeanor. An annoying, outrageous tweet, a consumption of too much fancy food. That’s a problem.

It’s a problem because Sara Netanyahu is the wife of the prime minister (and her son is the son of a prime minister), and because many Israelis observe the proceedings against her (and even the denunciations of him) with the uneasy feeling that these proceedings have the potential to lead to great political upheaval.

Big crimes justify political upheaval. Small crimes are more problematic — they could make the public feel that the political damage is greater than the benefit of seeking justice.

In the eyes of many — admittedly, myself included — Sara Netanyahu’s alleged crimes are not even small. They make her seem cheap, capricious, spoiled. But do they justify great political upheaval? Try to answer this question while thinking not about Netanyahu but rather about your favorite politician: would you accept political upheaval, maybe a change of guard, if the Obamas had ordered overly expensive food? Would you accept it if the Bushes had ordered overly expensive food? Would you accept it if the Clintons had ordered overly expensive food?