The big question though is whether her husband Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be charged next. But for now, in a sordid case that has transfixed the country for several years, Sara his wife has been found guilty. Since 2015 when reports surfaced in that she’d directed staffers at the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem to order nearly $100,000 of catered meals from some of the country’s best-known chefs, prosecutors have been investigating Sara Netanyahu.
Under Israeli law, it’s illegal to order food from outside when there is a private cook — paid with taxpayer money — already on the prime minister’s personal staff.
But the indictment is founded on allegation that Sara Netanyahu falsified records and tried to hide the fact that she had a cook on staff by ordering that he be described as a maintenance worker.
Israel has a long history of high-level political corruption: Nearly every prime minister of the past 30 years has faced criminal investigations. Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, was convicted in a bribery case in 2009; he’s serving an 18-month sentence in the same prison where Moshe Katsav, a former Israeli president, was jailed after being convicted of rape.
The charges against Sara Netanyahu involve crimes that seem like small potatoes by comparison to what government officials do in places like Nigeria.
For most of the Israeli public, however, the charges are resonating for two related reasons.
First, the Netanyahu family is widely thought to have a strong sense of entitlement and love of luxury goods; Israeli media reported that Sara Netanyahu once demanded — and received — $2,700 worth of jewelry from a wealthy Hollywood producer.
Second, and far more importantly, the prime minister himself is squarely in the crosshairs of Israeli prosecutors and law enforcement authorities.
In February, Israeli police recommended indicting Netanyahu in a pair of corruption cases; if Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit accepts their recommendations, Netanyahu would be formally charged with bribery, fraud, and abusing the powers of his office. A conviction would almost certainly send Netanyahu to prison — and open a new era of Israeli politics as Netanyahu’s many rivals line up to seek the country’s most powerful post.
The indictment only targets Netanyahu’s wife. That doesn’t mean he’s in the clear.
The new charges against Sara Netanyahu, 59, aren’t a total surprise. As I wrote in February, one of the two corruption investigations into her husband revolves around tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry, cigars, and other gifts that she and the prime minister allegedly received from wealthy businessmen — including, strangely, an Australian, James Packer, who was once married to Mariah Carey — in exchange for political favors.
Sara Netanyahu’s lawyers responded angrily to the new charges, which they derided as “false and delusional.” The attorneys, according to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, noted that Sara had passed a polygraph test about the alleged misconduct.
“Not only is the indictment based on false claims and distorted and mistaken data, it is based entirely on an illegitimate and illegal regulation imposed specifically for Prime Minister Netanyahu,” the attorneys said, according to Haaretz.
Netanyahu himself isn’t named in the new indictment, but close observers of the family say his shadow looms over the entire 19-page legal document. Anshel Pfeffer, the author of a new biography of Netanyahu, said on Twitter that it was “simply obscene in hanging all of this on Sara & not Bibi. She’s at fault, but he’s the [prime minister].”