JERUSALEM — It looks like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might have gone and upset Wonder Woman.
With less than a month to go before Israelis head to the polls on April 9, the long-serving leader, who is hoping for reelection in a tight race, publicly challenged on Sunday one of the country’s most popular celebrities — model and TV presenter Rotem Sela.
In the process, he seems to have sparked the ire of Israeli actress Gal Gadot — better known as Wonder Woman.
Sela, whose face adorns billboards across the country and who appears on Israeli television in one reality show or another almost every night, had aired concerns about the way Israel’s Arab population is being used in a derogatory manner during the campaign.
In a scathing Saturday night post on Instagram, Sela said she was angry after watching an interview with Miri Regev, a top minister for Netanyahu’s Likud party. Regev warned viewers that if Netanyahu loses the election, his main challenger, Benny Gantz, a former army chief of staff, will have to rely on Arabs to form a government.
“When the hell will someone in this government let the Israeli public know that this is a country for all its citizens and that every person is born equal. And also, that the Arabs are human beings,” Sela wrote in an Instagram story to her 830,000 followers.
Apparently, the post caught Netanyahu’s eye, and he took the unusual step of answering her directly on Facebook:
“Dear Rotem Sela, I read what you wrote. First of all, an important correction: Israel is not a state for all its citizens. According to a basic law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and the Jewish people only,” he wrote.
Netanyahu was referring to a law passed last year that declared Israel a national homeland for Jews and prioritized Jewish-only communities. It has left many of Israel’s minority communities feeling marginalized.
“As you wrote, there is no problem with the Arab citizens of Israel — they have equal rights and the Likud government has invested more in the Arab sector than any other government,” Netanyahu continued on Facebook. “We just want to sharpen the central question of these elections: Should Israel be led by a strong right-wing government headed by myself or by a left-wing government of Yair Lapid and Gantz with the support of the Arab parties? There is no other way for Lapid and Gantz to establish a government and such a government will undermine the security of the state and the citizens. The decision will be made in another month at the ballot box. Good Day.”
Netanyahu is facing stiff competition from Gantz, who has joined forces with Netanyahu rival Lapid, and he is also under strain after the country’s attorney general announced recently that he is considering indicting the Israeli leader on charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust in three separate criminal cases.
Since the attorney general’s announcement last month, polls have placed Gantz and Lapid’s Blue and White party slightly ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud. The surveys, however, predict that the right-wing and left-wing blocs, which either side will need to form a viable government after the election, are running neck and neck.
In his weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu reiterated his message to Sela, stating: “I want to respond to a few people who are confused. The state of Israel is not a nation-state of all its citizens; other minorities have a national representation in other countries.”
Immediately afterward, he also made reference to International Women’s Day, saying that despite progress in women’s participation and leadership in various sectors — “there is still much work to do."
He might be right, though he obviously did not reckon on the power of Sela and some female celebrity friends – including Gadot.
Writing to her 28.2 million followers on Instagram, the “Wonder Woman” actress made clear her support for Sela:
“Loving your neighbor as yourself is not a matter of right-left, Jewish-Arab, secular or religious, it is a matter of dialogue, of dialogue for peace, equality and tolerance for each other,” Gadot wrote in Hebrew. “The responsibility for such hope is on us to create a brighter future for our children. Rotem, my sister, you’re an inspiration for us all.”
We’ll have to wait and see whether Netanyahu is willing to go head to head with Wonder Woman.