The Ukrainian media was reeling on Monday morning: the wife of the prime minister of Israel had disrespected a longstanding Ukrainian tradition, throwing away a piece of bread that had been served to her at the welcome ceremony in the Kyiv international airport — an incident that was sadly caught on camera by one of the accompanying Israeli reporters.
The Ukrainians do not know Sara Netanyahu like we do. They don’t understand the circumstances. And there are mitigating circumstances.
First off, there’s the fact that the El Al captain failed to welcome the first lady on board over the loudspeaker, when he announced the presence of the prime minister to all passengers. Laugh all you want, but that’s actually rather offensive — having the husband get all the accolades. But Sara should know that these captains are simply not used to treating flight attendants with respect. Even if they are former attendants.
Then, Benjamin Netanyahu’s entourage blocked her way into the cockpit — which is itself really annoying. What’s the point of being a first lady if you can’t do selfies with the pilot?
And if those hellish three hours of flight weren’t nerve-wracking enough, when the airplane doors opened — Sara discovered, with all cameras on her, that the coat her stylist chose for her was the exact same color as the plane’s staircase.
So eating bread was, as you might imagine, the last thing Sara was hoping for. A cake would have certainly been more comforting.
The rundown to the incident
Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu are seen walking down the stairs holding hands. Sara utilizes her free right hand for a last furl of her hair, before meeting the welcoming committee.
The PM observes the scene around him. The things that catch his attention, and in which order, as evident in his glance, are interesting.
First, he looks at that contraption lying on the tray, under his nose.
Then he turns his gaze, smiling, toward the photographer on his right — making sure there’s a good snapshot for tomorrow’s newspaper.
And then he directs his face to the left, looking straight at the hostess.
All the while, Sara’s smile remains unwavering as she fixes her glare on the lady holding the bread.
With a skill of a Masterchef judge, Netanyahu tears a piece of the bread. Sara, at his side, tilts her head sideways with a somewhat petrified stare.
Without much ado, the PM toasts his hosts and does what needs to be done: he shoves the piece of bread, without hesitation, into his mouth.
Maybe there’s figs in the bake and he’s allergic to figs? Perhaps they use aniseed and he hates the taste of anis (as any normal person should)? Netanyahu doesn’t ponder these existential questions: a real leader is one who eats Ukrainian bread without hesitation.
The culprit of the incident
Why, why, why did you have to involve Sara?
Netanyahu will likely ask himself this very question in years to come. Why?
We need to delve into this very moment, when Netanyahu tries to feed his wife. Yes, to feed her. Not to offer her a piece of bread, but to feed her.
Netanyahu, to his credit, picked just a crumb of the bread’s crust. But then he made the mistake that every man should learn from: he tried to feed Sara. He aimed the crumb straight to her mouth.
Sara actually extended her left hand — which was available since she and the PM had departed the plane’s staircase, and the man let her loose in favor of the bread.
She did what any refined woman would do: she cupped her hand, ready to accept the piece of carbohydrate her man is serving her.
But no, Bibi just had to feed the bird. Good thing he didn’t throw it up in the air and yell “Catch!”
Sara looked petrified of that crumb making its way to her lips, against her will. Look at her. The woman who was shunned by the flight captain; who was not allowed into the cockpit; who is wearing a staircase was then expected to open her mouth and swallow whatever Netanyahu was trying to feed her. Look at her — and you’ll see us.
So let there be no mistake: Sara Netanyahu is the victim here.
At the very last second, the first lady raises her right arm and shoots down the breadcrumb from the hands of the prime minister, inches before it reaches her mouth. At this point, it should be said, Sara Netanyahu is awarded a score of perfect 10. P-e-r-f-e-c-t!
What the hell did I just see?!
The way Sara Netanyahu spreads her fingers and releases the piece of bread to the ground, is the stuff that the greatest movie directors crave for. The nonchalant attitude, the tender fingers spreading like a fan — while all that time, her smile remains frozen.
Sara is in her element. Sara, the gentle, European, former first class El Al flight attendant, who married the longest-serving prime minister in Israel — Sara is in a universe of her own making. A world where a woman can be independent, hold advanced degrees — MA! BA! — and is free to do as she pleases.
Sara’s hands go back to the lady-by-his-side posture, and Netanyahu cleans his hands of the whole ordeal. He didn’t see anything anyway — and if he didn’t see anything, how could he know anything? He never knows.
Can we also, just for a second, take stock of the fact that while his wife is undergoing her own diplomatic scandal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eats in front of the cameras with his mouth open?