The Cabinet and marital influences shape Bibi’s policy
By Rabbi Dow Marmur
JERUSALEM–Despite his occasional strong-man bluster, or perhaps because of it, there’s much to suggest that Binyamin Netanyahu – Bibi to friends and foes alike – is a weak Prime Minister. Two current issues in the news imply it.
First, the Turkey fiasco reminds us again that Netanyahu isn’t really in charge of his cabinet. Thus Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon who traded his diplomatic experience to become the lapdog of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman should have been sacked for having created an unnecessary crisis with a country with which Israel badly needs to remain on good terms. Instead, not only is Ayalon still in office but, by all accounts, he refused to apologize until President Shimon Peres intervened and got Lieberman to tell his dog to stop barking.
The price the country has paid inter alia is Ayalon’s persistent and improbable statements that his little drama has, in fact, strengthened Israel’s relations with Turkey. The only way I can understand it is by looking back on my experience as a marriage guidance counsellor when I came across many clients who loved quarrelling for the sake of making up; they found it erotically stimulating. Ayalon doesn’t seem to realize that even if it works in sexual relations, it doesn’t work in international relations.
By all accounts and despite Defense Minister Barak’s visit to Turkey earlier this week, relations won’t go back to what they once were; it was civility without passion. This isn’t only due to Ayalon but to Turkey’s own geopolitical ambitions and Muslim allegiances, but the Deputy Foreign Minister exacerbated the situation. A strong Prime Minister would have fired him as a gift to Turkey and a further sign of wanting to improve relations, but Netanyahu is too afraid of Lieberman to do something like that.
Second, Netanyahu isn’t only afraid of his Foreign Minister but also of his wife. That’s the impression one gets from the Israeli media. When he was first Prime Minister years ago, there were many reports about Mrs. Sarah Netanyahu’s draconian dealings with her staff. In the first year of his current term it has been quiet until last week when the news broke that their former housekeeper has filed a complaint about being badly treated by the Prime Minister’s wife. The memories of other employees are coming back.
This has given journalists an opportunity to tell about what they perceive as Sarah’s unhealthy influence over Bibi. Many appointments that have been made and alliances forged (for example, with the Jewish-American casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson who’s throwing his weight about in Israel) are the result not of a Prime Minister’s sober judgment but of his wife’s persistent nagging. Even those of us who are in no position to verify the innuendos cannot but raise our eyebrows and be amazed.
Only about a month ago I wrote that coming back to Israel I thought I found a very different Prime Minister, even though he had the same name and the same face as Bibi Netanyahu. These latest events suggest that it may be the same man after all and that his seeming openness to restarting the peace process with the Palestinians isn’t a change of heart but a change of “advice” he receives. Dare one hope that the influence this time is Obama and not Lieberman?
This doesn’t mean that there’s a person in Israel who might do better as Prime Minister. But that’s a very small consolation.
Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He ow divides his time between Canada and Israel