Benjamin Netanyahu’s Two Decades of Power, Bluster and Ego


He met Sara Ben-Artzi in 1988 on a layover at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. She was 30 and a flight attendant; he was 39 and Israel’s deputy foreign minister. They went out on several dates, but according to Ben Caspit’s “The Netanyahu Years,” there was no great chemistry. Soon after that, he told friends that they broke up. By 1991, they had reunited. They married in March of that year at his parents’ house in Jerusalem; Sara was visibly pregnant.

Two years later, Netanyahu shocked the nation when he went on the air and confessed to having cheated on his new wife. In the aftermath of the affair, there were reports in the Israeli press about rumors that Sara had agreed to take him back only after making him sign some sort of secret agreement stipulating that he could not have contact with other women without her knowledge and could go hardly anywhere without her. She also intervened at work. “Sara was shot into the Prime Minister’s Office as from a cannon,” Caspit writes in his book. The former senior aide to Netanyahu told me, “Our whole goal was to build a layer of defense around Bibi to protect him from Sara’s madness and allow him to do his work.” The portrait that emerges from such stories is of a scorned, grifting, raging woman. In various successful lawsuits and investigative reports over the years, this portrait appears to bear out.

Since his indictment in 2019, Netanyahu’s bond with Sara seems to have hardened. In their view, they are victims of a state plot to unseat them. The state prosecution claims that from 2011 to 2016, Netanyahu accepted a steady supply of cigars, cases of Champagne and jewelry from Arnon Milchan, an Israeli film producer in Hollywood, and James Packer, an Australian billionaire. In exchange for these presents, estimated to have been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, the prosecution says that Netanyahu lobbied U.S. officials to help Milchan renew his U.S. visa and tried to lighten his tax burden in Israel. (Milchan and Packer are not on trial, and Packer has not been accused of a quid pro quo.) A former Netanyahu spokesman who turned state witness in 2018 told prosecutors that he had learned of “a method, let’s say, in which, on every visit abroad, the Netanyahu family was attached to a walking credit card on two legs” — meaning to local benefactors.

In 2021, an unusual video went viral in Israel. Set against a black background, it featured the account of a man named David Artzi. Artzi, the former deputy head of Israel Aerospace Industries, met with David Shimron, Netanyahu’s cousin who was then his private lawyer in 1999. Shimron, Artzi claimed, had recently been fired by another client, and in trying to illustrate to Artzi that he was still in demand, he brought up his work with Netanyahu. He opened his briefcase and pulled out a contract that he had drawn up between Sara and Bibi. “So I read it over carefully, slowly, slowly, and I almost faint,” Artzi recalled. It was 15 pages long and, according to Artzi, stated that “he would have no credit cards, only she would, and that if he needed money she would give it to him in cash.” It also outlined Sara’s veto power over appointments including the military’s chief of staff, the head of Shin Bet and the head of the Mossad, Artzi said. Shimron denies Artzi’s account and has since sued him for libel. In testimony early this year, Sara Netanyahu said that “this agreement did not exist,” and Netanyahu called Artzi’s account a “gross lie.”

But the former senior defense official said he was convinced of Sara’s power. He told me that he had spoken to someone who had witnessed Netanyahu grilling a candidate for a sensitive role about personal “loyalty.” The former Netanyahu spokesman told the investigative program “Hamakor,” “There is an agreement that the innermost appointments in the bureau don’t pass without a green light from Sara Netanyahu.”


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