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Sara Netanyahu’s hair-raising experience

The spin that Israel’s first lady scheduled her salon appointment in Tel Aviv to attract a commotion and gain sympathy is just as nonsensical as the propaganda that judicial reform will result in an impoverished theocratic dictatorship.

Protesters descend on the Tel Aviv salon where Sara Netanyahu was having her hair done, March 1, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Protesters descend on the Tel Aviv salon where Sara Netanyahu was having her hair done, March 1, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum is a Tel Aviv-based columnist and commentator. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, as well as on U.S.-Israel relations. The winner of the Louis Rappaport award for excellence in commentary, she is the author of the book "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'”

It’s not clear which is worse—the siege on the salon where Sara Netanyahu was having her hair done, or the response to it by the self-described “cream of the crop” and “salt of the earth” of Israeli society. But at least the travesty served as additional evidence, in case anyone still harbored doubts about it, that the ongoing demonstrations are not about “saving democracy.”

The incident in question took place in Tel Aviv on Wednesday evening. When protesters—who had spent the well-organized “Day of National Disruption” stomping around, blocking traffic and clashing with police—heard that Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s wife was at a beauty parlor in the area, they headed for and gathered outside the establishment.

“The country’s on fire and Sara’s getting a haircut,” some of them chanted in rhyming Hebrew.

“May your ends burn,” others shouted, implying her responsibility for Sunday’s arson attack on the Palestinian village of Huwara. The vigilantism was in revenge for the cold-blooded murder of Hallel and Yagel Yaniv, two brothers from the neighboring Jewish community of Har Bracha.

That Netanyahu condemned the assault and implored Israelis not to take the law into their own hands was of no interest to his detractors. They were too busy distorting the content of his televised prime-time address, which coincided with the holing up of his spouse with her stylist for some three hours, until she was ushered out by uniformed officers.

As mobs surrounded the premises, one leader of the protest movement was positively gleeful. “Sara came to get her hair cut, and look at what a wonderful surprise was waiting for her,” said former Meretz Party MK Yair Golan on a video-selfie that he posted on social media. “‘On shilton, olam tachton (“crony capitalism, mafia underworld”) is what the protesters are crying.’ And they’re so right. Onward, ’till the end, with the civil revolt.”

In a separate clip, he declared, “Look at this amazing display! All the residents of Tel Aviv organized an extraordinary spontaneous demonstration. Sara, go home! Bibi, go home! Democracy is ours!”

Aside from being a liar (since very few Tel Aviv denizens actually attend the weekly protests, let alone the one under discussion), Golan is the same guy who—during his tenure as deputy chief-of-staff of the Israel Defense Forces—took the opportunity of Holocaust Remembrance Day to express trepidation that signs of the “revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany … 70, 80 and 90 years ago [are] here among us [in Israel] in 2016.”

The genocide of the Jews, he said in a speech to troops, “must make us think deeply about the responsibility of leadership and the quality of society, and it must lead us to fundamental thinking about how we, here and now, treat the stranger, the orphan and the widow, and all who are like them. There is nothing easier than hating the stranger … There is nothing easier than behaving like animals and acting sanctimoniously. [Today], we ought to discuss our ability to uproot the seeds of intolerance, violence, self-destruction and moral deterioration.”

Another protest bigwig, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak—who also held the positions of defense minister and Labor Party chairman—had his own pearl of wisdom to impart about the persecution of Israel’s first lady.

“Friends, the goal … was achieved; the piggish greed of ‘the family’ was denounced,” he tweeted at 10:30 p.m. “It’s time to end the siege on the hair salon. We don’t want physical friction with this particular woman, even if she has a part in the mess that we’re in. It’s inappropriate. Even damaging. We’ll have many more difficult struggles. But ultimately the coup d’état will fail.”

Talk about projection. After all, it’s Barak and his ilk who are trying to stage a coup against the democratically elected coalition that they oppose.

Then there was Labor Party head Merav Michaeli, who fancies herself a feminist firebrand and defender of all fellow females victimized by the patriarchy—except, apparently, when it comes to those who don’t agree with her politics.

“For the past day, Netanyahu has been running a false and orchestrated defamation campaign against the anti-coup d’état activists,” she tweeted on Thursday. “It began with the comparison he dared to make between the protesters and the hooligans who burned houses in Huwara, and continued with spin about a siege [on Sara] that never happened.”

Never mind that the premier decidedly did not make such an analogy. What he said, while calling for calm, was, “We won’t tolerate violence in Huwara, and we won’t tolerate violence in Tel Aviv.”

Forget that the hair-salon “siege” wasn’t a case of “spin” by Netanyahu. The protesters themselves took credit for and pride in the egregious event.

Nor did the “Crime Minister” camp or its supporters in the mainstream media criticize the maneuver. Instead, they engaged in “whataboutism,” citing cases in which individual right-wingers verbally accosted family members of politicians in the previous government.

Furthermore, speaking of “spin,” they claimed that Sara not only scheduled the hair appointment in Tel Aviv, rather than in Jerusalem where she lives, but leaked it in order to attract a commotion and gain sympathy points for her and her husband. This was just as nonsensical as the propaganda that reforms to restore the proper balance of power between Israel’s executive, legislative and judicial branches will result in an impoverished theocratic dictatorship.

In fact, a woman who’d just finished having her own hair done at the salon photographed Sara and promptly shared the picture on the Internet. Within a short while of the patron’s exit, throngs of people began to arrive. Their screaming and cursing proceeded to crescendo to the point at which she felt genuinely threatened.

In an interview the next day with Channel 14’s Moti Kastel, she described looking at the glass door that separated her from the hostile horde. “My sense was that if they were to break in, they would kill me.”

Thankfully, it didn’t get to that. It did, however, succeed in highlighting the true colors and dark shades of the protest movement.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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