She may not hold an official government post, draw a huge salary or run an international corporation, but Sara Netanyahu’s purported influence over her husband, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, earned her the No. 1 spot on Forbes Israel’s list of the country’s 50 most powerful women, published last week.
Netanyahu, a child psychiatrist by training, beat out billionaires, CEOs, Cabinet ministers and cultural icons to gain the top spot, with the magazine citing her ostensible tight control over senior government appointments as her main leverage tool.
“She is not directly involved in making decisions on economic, military or diplomatic matters. She won’t intervene in deciding on raising the VAT or launching a strike on Iran, but she is deeply involved in deciding who the people who make the critical decisions are,” a source who worked closely with the Netanyahus told Forbes. “Most of the appointments surrounding the prime minister — not only in his bureau — go through Sara Netanyahu. Major roles in the most important office in the country as well as minor government jobs — she is involved in all of them,” the unnamed source said.
Another unnamed official described the relationship as follows: “For someone to be influential, he or she needs to find a subject willing to be so totally influenced; that is the prime minister. He is completely under her influence, and doesn’t indicate any desire to be freed of it. He is very committed to her, and apparently loves her very much.”
Immediately following Sara Netanyahu on the list is a more conventional pick, Bank Leumi CEO Rakefet Russak-Aminoach. Russak-Aminoach, 47, is the youngest person to stand at the head of the leading Israeli bank and over the past year steered it through tumultuous financial times, seeing through painful staff cuts and internal reforms.
Filling out the Forbes top three was real estate magnate Shari Arison, who is also the driving force behind the annual Good Deeds Day, a philanthropic venture that this year included participants in 50 countries.
The top ranked female politician was Tzipi Livni in 11th place, followed closely by opposition head Shelly Yachimovich. Both women led their parties (Hatnua and Labor respectively) in January elections. Though the results were less impressive than they had hoped for, today both find themselves in positions of power, Livni as the country’s justice minister and Yachimovich as the chief opposition political thorn in Netanyahu’s side.
Israel’s favorite supermodel, Bar Refaeli made the list in 45th place, with the magazine citing her constant coverage by the media, her popularity on online social networks, and her income, as her claims to power.