Netanyahus turn premiership into family affair
July 7, 1996
Web posted at: 7:35 p.m. EDT (2335 GMT)
From International Correspondent Jerrold Kessel
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Last month Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was grabbing the headlines with his victory over former Prime Minister Shimon Peres. This month it's his wife, Sarah, who's in the spotlight.
The controversy surrounding Sarah is not entirely a media invention. Netanyahu himself seems bent on making his family Israel's first family. While it is to be expected in the United States, political families have rarely attracted such attention in Israel.
"It's unprecedented," said Israeli political analyst David Makovsky. "Israelis have not been used to it. When Yitzhak Rabin's son was at his funeral, I don't think many Israelis even knew he had a son."
By breaking with tradition and thrusting his family forward, Netanyahu has also subjected them to intense media scrutiny.
One result: the snowballing "Nannygate affair," in which two young women described for tabloids a "nightmare" regime under Mrs. Netanyahu.
A political cartoon in a local paper suggested a solution, with a drawing showing Foreign Minister David Levi pressed into a nursemaid role when the Netanyahus travel to Washington this week to meet President Clinton.
Mrs. Netanyahu has responded to criticism of her conduct by accusing the media of continuing a smear campaign she says they launched against her husband during the election.
Standing firm is not new for Sarah Netanyahu. She stood by her husband even when he publicly confessed to an extra-marital affair. She's been there solidly during the past three years as he drove to his come-from-behind election triumph.
Makovsky said the controversy is likely to blow over if Netanyahu wins the confidence of his critics.
"If the policies are right, Israelis will basically ignore this and they'll focus on what he does more than what his wife does," he said.
But others say the controversy has affected the way some feel about Mrs. Netanyahu.
"In the beginning we were really rooting for her," said Sylvie Keshet of Israel's Yediot Achronot newspaper. "'Poor darling, she was betrayed.' We were all for her. But then she probably said to herself like in the song from 'My Fair Lady' -- 'Just you wait Henry Higgins, just you wait,' and sure enough, he (Netanyahu) is getting it."
Intense scrutiny of his family may be the price Netanyahu pays for bringing a decidedly Western style to Israeli politics.
Two new central agencies he's set up, in security and economic affairs, are both named after their Washington counterparts.
Netanyahu's apparent dream is to turn the old-style Israeli premiership into an American-style presidency.
- 'Nannygate' plagues first lady of Israel - July 5, 1996
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