JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife may have violated the country’s coronavirus lockdown by inviting a hairdresser into the official residence last week to prepare her for a public service video advocating the wearing of masks.
The incident, first reported by the Yediot Ahronot daily, was the latest in a string of lockdown violations by Israeli leaders and public figures — drawing widespread criticism that they are undermining public trust in the government.
Yediot reported that Sara Netanyahu had a hairdresser visit on the eve of the festive Sukkot holiday. Hair salons and barber shops are closed as part of a nationwide lockdown imposed last month, and people have been ordered to remain within 1,000 meters (yards) of home except for essential activities.
The Netanyahus have long been criticized for enjoying a lavish lifestyle out of the reach of most Israelis. In past cases, Sara Netanyahu was fined thousands of dollars for using public money for her own extravagant tastes and for allegedly abusive behavior toward her personal staff.
An official statement released in response to the news report said Sara Netanyahu was strictly abiding by all the coronavirus regulations, including sheltering at home and enforcing the wearing of masks at the official residence.
As a public figure making an informational video, she believed she was entitled to employ the services of the hairstylist, the statement said. It added that they both wore masks and gloves during the appointment and that she asked the stylist to refrain from making conversation.
The newspaper said that while the prime minister is entitled to such services as a public servant, his wife is not. An ordinary Israeli would pay a 500-shekel ($150) fine for violating the restriction.
The prime minister has been the target of mass demonstrations in recent months, with protesters calling on him to step down while he is on trial for corruption and criticizing his response to the coronavirus.
Israelis have also expressed anger about a number of recent instances in which senior officials and their family members violated lockdown orders. Netanyahu and the figurehead president, Reuven Rivlin, have both acknowledged improperly hosting relatives during the Passover holiday last spring.
A Cabinet minister from Netanyahu’s Likud Party, Gila Gamliel, sparked uproar this week when it was discovered that she improperly traveled to the northern city of Tiberias for the Yom Kippur holy day last week and contracted the coronavirus. Israeli media have said she also lied to contact tracing investigators about her whereabouts.
In June 2019, a court ordered Sara Netanyahu to pay a fine of more than $15,000 for misusing state funds after she was accused of misusing some $100,000 in state money on lavish meals. In 2016, a court ruled that she had mistreated a housecleaner and awarded the man $42,000 in damages. Other employees have also accused her of abuse.
The Netanyahus have rejected all the allegations against them. Both say they have been the target of a “witch hunt” by hostile media and law enforcement.