In marmur

By Rabbi Dow Marmur.

Apparently lists of VIPs attract a lot of readers; that’s why they’re so common in publications and blogs. No country, no walk of life and no profession remain unrated. Even rabbis: in the last few days alone I’ve read two lists telling me who’re the most influential and/or “spiritual” of my professional colleagues. Hoping to be included at least once, I’m now waiting for a list of least influential rabbis.

The list that has attracted much attention here is Forbes’ “50 Most Influential Women in Israel,” because it’s topped by none other than Sarah Netanyahu, the wife of the prime minister. Rumors about her firm (strangle?) hold on the affairs of state in Israel have circulated a long time and now do so with renewed vehemence. 

Two recent cases: In the last election campaign, Naftali Bennett – who for a number of years had run Mr. Netanyahu’s office and, it seems, left it less than amicably – at least on one occasion spoke publicly about Mrs. Netanyahu in unflattering terms. That’s why afterwards – so another rumor has it – even when her husband needed Bennett in his coalition, he gave him the cold shoulder until he apologized. And Reuven Rivlin may not have been re-elected Speaker of the Knesset because the lady objected.

Of course, it may all be idle gossip because, unlike the wives of previous prime ministers, Mrs. Netanyahu is very visible, and often. The wife of Ehud Olmert, Netanyahu’s predecessor, a substantial person in her own right, hardly ever appeared in public with him. And the late Mrs. Shimon Peres shunned publicity throughout his long career in politics and is said to have separated from him when he became president.

Hitherto Israeli politicians seemed to have followed the way of, say, most of the Russian and Chinese leaders. It’s different with the American first ladies: Hilary Clinton, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, etc. And Binyamin Netanyahu is a very “American” prime minister; he spent many years in the United States before becoming an Israeli politician.

Perhaps that’s the reason for his wife’s frequent public appearances. But it’s also possible that she’s really an important factor in the decision making process. I heard him once say on TV that she has a very good sense for people and thus is an essential asset to him; perhaps he lets her make his “intuitive” decisions. But it’s also possible that attacking his wife is the cowards’ way of getting at the prime minister.

I assume it won’t come as a shock to anybody that Mr. Netanyahu doesn’t ask my advice. True, I may be unschooled in politics, but I did work for a decade as a marriage guidance counselor in Britain, a skill I’ve occasionally deployed when suggesting to communal leaders within my orbit that it would be in their best interest, and in the interest of the cause, not to involve their spouses while they’re in office.

That’s the advice I’d also give to the prime minister of Israel. Whether his wife does really mix in his business or is unjustly vilified by the media, her notorious public presence doesn’t seem to do much good for his image. And he could do with further enhancement of it, even after President Obama’s visit.

Israeli politics is extremely important not only to Israelis but, apparently, to the whole world. Therefore, the country doesn’t need to be distracted by Forbes or anybody else, however readable, perhaps even credible, the stories about the allegedly whimsical manifestations of power by the wife of the prime minister.     

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