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The funny feminist angle to Gilat Bennett’s defiance of her husband’s Omicron plea

The outcry about the first lady going ahead with plans that others were told to postpone was as natural as anchorwoman Dana Weiss’s response was ridiculous.

Israeli broadcast journalist Dana Weiss at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli broadcast journalist Dana Weiss at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Credit: Courtesy.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, an author and award-winning columnist, is a former adviser at the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It’s not clear which of the two women who aroused the ire of the Israeli public last week received the lioness’s share of contempt. It was definitely a tough competition between Gilat Bennett, wife of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and Channel 12 broadcast journalist Dana Weiss.

The brouhaha began when it was announced last Wednesday that Mrs. Bennett was taking the couple’s four children on a vacation abroad. This wouldn’t have elicited a yawn, let alone nationwide resentment, had the news not come less than a week after the premier urged the public to avoid traveling overseas.

Naftali Bennett’s request that we all sit tight until further research is done on the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus followed his Cabinet’s decision to forbid entry into the country of foreign nationals—with some exceptions, of course, including all the contestants arriving to compete in the “Miss Universe” pageant on Dec. 12 in Eilat.

Yes, while thousands of tourists and family members of Israeli residents were forced suddenly to cancel their flights to Ben-Gurion Airport—with no prior warning and great confusion surrounding refunds and rescheduling—beauty queens from some 80 parts of the world were ushered in, no problem.

Still, the closure wasn’t imposed on Israelis entering or exiting the country, though the PCR-testing and quarantine rules for them were to be tightened. Nor were pre-planned Hanukkah parties and other events canceled or even curtailed, save for a tweak in the number of people allowed in closed spaces.

Gilat Bennett, therefore, wasn’t actually violating any rules when she decided to ignore her husband’s recommendation and fly off with the kids to some unknown destination. As his office said in a statement: “The Bennett family will, of course, follow all the guidelines and rules that apply” to everyone else.

Nevertheless, the outcry about her insistence on going ahead with plans that others were told to postpone was only natural. For one thing, the episode reeked of hypocrisy. While the prime minister was telling people to refrain from vacationing abroad, the first lady was packing her suitcase and the kids’ passports.

For another, her nonchalance indicated something about Omicron. Clearly, Bennett couldn’t have believed that his wife and kids were at risk of contracting the variant or bringing it back home with them. Otherwise, there’s no way that he would have agreed to let them go. This alone was sufficient to spur already skeptical masses of thrice-vaccinated people to question the motive behind the panic-mongering.

It also led to a slew of sarcastic jokes about Gilat’s attitude towards Naftali. Among these was the suggestion that she—like the rest of the electorate—doesn’t consider the chairman of a party with a measly seven Knesset seats to be a head of state who commands authority.

The disgust and dark humor were to be expected, as was the attempt on the part of certain media personalities who back the current coalition to minimize the whole affair. But Weiss and a few fellow feminists went a bit too far.

On a little excursion of her own—to la-la land—Weiss embarrassed herself by using the issue as an excuse to praise women who have and express their own minds against their husbands’ wishes. Seriously?

Even most members of the left who normally jump at every opportunity to decry male dominance and champion female empowerment weren’t buying the baloney.

In the first place, Gilat Bennett isn’t just any Israeli woman; she’s married to the prime minister—a politician who famously said that he was going to “lead by example.” Secondly, a person’s gender and marital status are irrelevant where epidemiology is concerned.

Third, Weiss didn’t stop there. She had the nerve to declare on the air that it’s time to leave the wives of prime ministers out of the discussion. Since she never was one to shy away from opining negatively on former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, her statement caused jaws to drop both in-studio and out.

Famed Yediot Achronot pundit Nahum Barnea wasn’t one of them. “Yes,” he wrote on Saturday, “Gilat Bennett embarrassed her husband. At the same time, we discovered that she has an opinion and will of her own. [Naftali] will withstand that. I hope we will, as well.”

Unlike Weiss, however, at least Barnea was more focused on the ill-conceived Omicron policy than on a woman’s right to reject it.

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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