Why Sara Netanyahu’s hair salon trip ended with riot police

Why Sara Netanyahu’s hair salon trip ended with riot police
Police stand guard outside a Tel Aviv salon where protesters demonstrating against the government's planned judicial overhaul amassed on March 1, 2023, after learning that the prime minister's wife, Sara Netanyahu, was getting her hair done inside. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)
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Updated 03 March 2023

Why Sara Netanyahu’s hair salon trip ended with riot police

Why Sara Netanyahu’s hair salon trip ended with riot police
  • The prime minister's wife, a divisive figure long intertwined with her husband’s political career, has drawn scorn for a reputation of living a lavish lifestyle at the taxpayers’ expense

JERUSALEM: The scene signaled a grave national emergency — dozens of riot police charged through the streets of Tel Aviv as crowds of anti-government protesters howled and roared. Their mission: to rescue Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife from a swanky salon where she was getting her hair done.
The protesters’ Wednesday night siege of the beauty parlor, accompanied by chants of “shame, shame,” cast a spotlight on Sara Netanyahu, a divisive figure long intertwined with her husband’s political career.
She has drawn scorn for a reputation of living a lavish lifestyle at the taxpayers’ expense — an image only reinforced by her decision to get her hair done in the center of a city wracked by unrest that turned violent Wednesday for the first time.
Israelis have also accused Netanyahu, a former air hostess turned educational psychologist, of wielding undue influence over her husband, pressuring him over political appointments and policy issues.
Here’s a look at what has made Sara Netanyahu so controversial over some three decades on the political stage.
Hey, big spender
Sara Netanyahu, 64, has garnered sensational headlines over the years for allegedly misappropriating public funds, overspending on household expenses and pocketing gifts from world leaders, among other things. In 2019, she accepted a plea bargain to settle accusations that she misused $100,000 in public funds to order lavish meals from celebrity chefs at the prime minister’s official residence, although she already had cooks on the government payroll. She also has become entangled in Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, which has precipitated the country’s yearslong political crisis.

Sara Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial wife, attends a hearing at the Magistrate's Court in Rishon LeZion, Israel, on Jan. 23, 2023. (AP)

In exchange for political favors, the prime minister allegedly accepted gifts from billionaire friends that included tens of thousands of dollars in crates of champagne and extravagant jewelry for Sara Netanyahu, and struck backroom deals with newspaper publishers aimed at scoring more favorable coverage of his wife. He denies all wrongdoing. Most recently, a parliamentary committee approved new spending money for the Netanyahus, including an increase of thousands of dollars each year in clothing and makeup expenses for Sara Netanyahu.
“The general feeling is that this is a very greedy couple,” said Israeli journalist Amir Oren. “It does have a sort of Marie Antoinette vibe.”
Temper tantrums
Over the years, Sara Netanyahu’s household help has consistently accused her of explosive tirades and mistreatment. In one case, a leaked phone conversation surfaced of Netanyahu screaming at her publicist about how a gossip column omitted a mention of her educational credentials. In another, the family’s nanny said Netanyahu fired her for burning a pot of soup, kicking her onto the curb without her clothes or passport.
Two domestic workers have won damages in lawsuits accusing Netanyahu of making their lives miserable. In court testimony, one of them revealed Netanyahu’s taste for pink champagne and other expensive luxuries. Friends and staff over the years have shared accounts about Netanyahu’s extreme outbursts and unhealthy obsession with cleanliness. Netanyahu’s family has depicted themselves as the casualties of a press war. They brought a libel suit against Ehud Olmert, a former prime minister, after he described them as being “mentally ill.”
Callling the shots?
Critics of Netanyahu’s family have accused Sara Netanyahu of interference in the prime minister’s decision-making. Former officials have testified recently in court that she wielded undue influence over top security appointments. In January, a retired general testified that Sara Netanyahu interviewed him for 45 minutes for the job of the prime minister’s military secretary, after Benjamin Netanyahu had left the room. “For the last few years, there has been no appointment of a senior official that was not interviewed or influenced by Sara,” said Gayil Talshir, professor of political science at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
She has been accused of pushing her husband further to the right and helping drive his government’s determination to overhaul the country’s judiciary — a plan that has prompted some of the largest protests in Israeli history and drawn widespread condemnation from across Israeli society and around the world.
Given her past legal troubles, critics argue, she has just as much stake in the government’s plan to weaken the court system as her husband. Sara Netanyahu and her son, Yair — similarly a lightning rod for controversy — have repeatedly incited against Israel’s “elites” – the media, the bureaucrats, the civil servants. Benjamin Netanyahu insists that his wife keeps out of affairs of state.
Bad hair day
Because of Sara Netanyahu’s public profile, the opposition argues she’s not simply a first lady — but rather, a legitimate political target for the protest movement. Yair Golan, a former general and one-time Meretz party lawmaker, told Kan radio that “with all due respect, Sara Netanyahu is a political figure” and is involved in key appointments and decisions.
Yet the dramatic scenes of police forces, secret service and helicopters called to extract Netanyahu from her hair appointment changed the course of “the day of disruption.” Benjamin Netanyahu posted a photo on Twitter that showed him hugging his wife late at night, saying she returned home safe and warning that such “anarchy” would lead to the loss of life.
In a post on Instagram on Thursday, Sara Netanyahu thanked the police for helping her and thanked the public for what she said was an outpouring of support.
“Yesterday’s incident could have ended with murder,” she said. She called on opposition leaders to condemn “the violence, anarchy and incitement.”
The incident, which grabbed headlines even after police shocked the country by firing water cannons, stun grenades and tear gas at pro-democracy protesters, once again revealed Benjamin Netanyahu to be a master political manipulator, said Talshir. “He managed to play it well, projecting his wife as the real victim of yesterday’s protest,” she said. “But from the protesters’ point of view, Sara has been crucial in dividing the country and turning it toward autocracy.”

US vice president Kamala Harris: Israel needs ‘independent judiciary’

US vice president Kamala Harris: Israel needs ‘independent judiciary’
Updated 07 June 2023

US vice president Kamala Harris: Israel needs ‘independent judiciary’

US vice president Kamala Harris: Israel needs ‘independent judiciary’
  • Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen: Harris was perhaps not fully informed about the details of the judicial changes his government was seeking

WASHINGTON: US vice president Kamala Harris said on Tuesday that Israel’s democracy requires “an independent judiciary,” wading into the controversy over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial overhaul that has drawn mass protests in Israel.
“America will continue to stand for the values that have been the bedrock of the US-Israel relationship, which includes continuing to strengthen our democracies, which as the (Israeli) ambassador has said, are both built on strong institutions, checks and balances, and I’ll add: an independent judiciary,” Harris said.
The vice president spoke at a reception celebrating the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding hosted by the country’s embassy in Washington. Her remarks on the judiciary drew applause.
Harris also reiterated the Biden administration’s “ironclad commitment to the security of Israel.”
Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen said Harris was perhaps not fully informed about the details of the judicial changes his government was seeking, which were intended, he said, to ensure a strong and independent judiciary which was more balanced.
“If you ask her what troubles her about the reform, she may not be able to cite even one clause that bothers her,” Cohen told Israel’s public broadcaster Kansas “I don’t know whether she read the bill, my estimation is that she has not.”
Weeks of unprecedented street demonstrations followed Netanyahu’s proposed package of reforms of the Supreme Court, which members of his religious-nationalist coalition accuse of overreach and elitism.
Under pressure at home and abroad, including from US President Joe Biden’s administration, Netanyahu has suspended the overhaul to try to negotiate a consensus with the political opposition.
Critics see a threat to independence of the courts by the prime minister, who is on trial on graft charges that he denies.
Top economists and national security veterans have warned of fallout, saying an independent court system is crucial to Israel’s democratic norms and economic strength.
Before Harris spoke, Israeli president Isaac Herzog said in a video address to the crowd that he planned to visit the White House and address a joint session of the US Congress “in the near future.” The trip is expected in July.
Biden has yet to extend a White House invitation to Netanyahu, despite Israel’s status as a key Middle East ally.
The two leaders have had chilly relations since Biden took office. Biden had pressed Netanyahu in recent months to drop the judicial overhaul plan.
Netanyahu, who was prime minister for three years in the 1990s and then from 2009 to 2021, took office again in December to start his sixth term.

Turkiye jails teen who added moustache to Erdogan poster

Turkiye jails teen who added moustache to Erdogan poster
Updated 07 June 2023

Turkiye jails teen who added moustache to Erdogan poster

Turkiye jails teen who added moustache to Erdogan poster
  • He was arrested after being identified by CCTV cameras

ISTANBUL: Turkish authorities on Tuesday seized and jailed a 16-year-old youth for drawing a moustache on an election campaign poster showing re-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, media reports said.
Several media close to the opposition, including daily newspapers BirGun, Cumhuriyet and private TV station Halk TV, said the youth from the southeastern town of Mersin was accused of defacing the poster near his home with a pen, scribbling “a Hitler moustache and writing insulting comments.”
He was arrested after being identified by CCTV cameras, media reports said. Authorities interviewed him at his home where he reportedly “admitted drawing the moustache” while denying writing the accompanying comments.
Taken before the public prosecutor he was found to have “insulted the president” and was jailed at a nearby youth facility, according to Halk TV.
Erdogan extended his 20-year rule over Turkiye after winning the May 28 second round of the presidential election to embark on a new five-year term.
According to the justice ministry, “insulting the president” is one of the most common crimes in Turkiye, resulting in 16,753 convictions last year.

Short of animals, Gaza Zoo fights to survive

Short of animals, Gaza Zoo fights to survive
Updated 06 June 2023

Short of animals, Gaza Zoo fights to survive

Short of animals, Gaza Zoo fights to survive
  • Two of Gaza’s zoos have closed

GAZA: Large paintings of a bear, an elephant and a giraffe decorate the outer walls of NAMA Zoo in Gaza City, but none of these wild creatures is represented live among those caged inside.

Six years ago, the lone tiger died, and despite visitors’ frequent demands for a replacement, the owners have not been able to afford to buy or feed a new one.

There were once six zoos in Gaza, a narrow coastal enclave which has been closed off behind security walls since 2007.

But with the economy crippled by a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, two of the zoos have closed.

“Because of the lack of resources and capabilities and the high prices of animals it is difficult to replace an animal you lose,” said Mahmoud Al-Sultan, the medical supervisor of the NAMA zoo.

The original animals at the zoo were smuggled through tunnels from Egypt over a decade ago. 

As well as four pairs of lions, each of which goes through 60 kg of meat a week, the zoo has crocodiles, hyenas, foxes, deer and monkeys, as well as a lone ibex and a solitary wolf.

At the lions’ cages, children stand to take pictures from a distance and giggle as they touch the bars on the cages of deer and birds. 

A ticket costs less than $1 because people can’t afford more, Sultan said.

“I come here to have some fun, but I see the same animals every time,” said nine-year-old Fouad Saleh. “I wish I could see an elephant, a giraffe or a tiger.”

For the moment, that appears unlikely. Gaza lacks the medical facilities to treat animals like lions and tigers.

In the past, the Four Paws international animal welfare group has had to rescue animals and find them new homes in Israel, Jordan or as far away as South Africa.

“We struggle to afford the food,” said Sultan. “Sometimes we provide frozen food, chicken, turkeys, and sometimes if a donkey is injured we have it slaughtered and shared out between the lions.”

UAE to tighten insurance cover for ships flying its flag

UAE to tighten insurance cover for ships flying its flag
Updated 06 June 2023

UAE to tighten insurance cover for ships flying its flag

UAE to tighten insurance cover for ships flying its flag

DUBAI: The UAE is tightening insurance requirements for vessels registered under its flag, according to a government advisory, amid growing concerns over ships sailing without top tier cover in the event of an oil spill.

Ships typically have protection and indemnity insurance which covers liability claims including environmental damage and injury. Separate hull and machinery policies cover vessels against physical damage.

About 90 percent of the world’s ocean going tonnage is covered by the 12 ship insurers that make up the International Group.

P&I insurers outside of the IG that cover UAE flagged ships will need to meet a number of requirements including providing evidence of membership of a recognized maritime related professional agency or regulatory body, the UAE’s Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure said in a June 2 advisory posted on its website.

Other requirements include providing details of the five largest settled claims or details of claims over $10 million, the advisory said, adding that applications needed to be submitted before June 30.

The advisory, which was also addressed to ship owners, said evidence would need to be shown about so-called blue cards, which cover pollution damage.

The UAE flagged fleet includes dozens of oil tankers — many of which are old — and over 200 offshore vessels typically used in oil related trading, according to shipping data on public database Equasis.

Hundreds of “ghost” tankers, which are not fully regulated, have joined an opaque parallel shipping trade over the past few years, carrying oil from countries hit by Western sanctions and restrictions, including Russia and Iran.

The number of incidents last year, including groundings, collisions and near misses involving these ships reached the highest in years, a Reuters investigation showed.

Ports in China’s Shandong province are demanding more detailed information about oil tankers that are more than 15 years old that call at their terminals, sources with knowledge of the matter said this week.

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’
Updated 06 June 2023

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’

Khartoum islanders ‘under siege’
  • Residents of Tuti island in the Nile reported being “under siege” amid desperate shortages

KHARTOUM: Battles raged in Sudan’s war-torn capital of Khartoum on Tuesday, witnesses said, and the residents of an island in the Nile reported being “under siege” amid desperate shortages.

Eight weeks of fighting have pitted army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan against his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who commands the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

A number of broken ceasefires have offered brief lulls but no respite for residents of the city, where witnesses again reported “the sound of heavy artillery fire” in northern Khartoum.

Witnesses also said there were “clashes with various types of weapons” in south Khartoum, where “the sound of explosions shook our walls.”

In the city center, at the confluence of the White Nile and Blue Nile rivers, the island of Tuti is “under total siege” by RSF forces, resident Mohammed Youssef said.

Paramilitaries have blocked the only bridge to the island and prevented residents from going by boat to other parts of the capital.

“We can’t move anyone who’s sick to hospitals off the island,” Youssef said. “If this continues for days, stores will run out of food.”

Since the fighting began on April 15, more than 1,800 people have been killed, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

Al Arabiya channel reported that the warring parties had resumed indirect ceasefire talks in Jeddah on Tuesday.

The UN says that more than a million and a half people have been displaced, both within the country and across its borders.

For those still in Khartoum and the western region of Darfur — which together have seen the worst of the fighting — the situation is growing increasingly dire.

“We face a massive humanitarian crisis that is only going to get worse with the collapse of the economy, collapse of the health care system,” the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned.

The danger will increase with “the flood season fast approaching and the looming hunger crisis and disease outbreaks that now are becoming more inevitable.”

Sudan’s annual rainy season begins in June, and medics have repeatedly warned that it threatens to make parts of country inaccessible, raising the risks of malaria, cholera and water-borne diseases.