JERUSALEM/KIEV (Reuters) – Israeli and Ukrainian leaders have come to the defence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara after she appeared to toss away a piece of bread offered to her at an official Ukrainian welcoming ceremony.
Netanyahu and his wife, on a two-day official trip to Ukraine, were greeted at the airport upon their arrival overnight between Sunday and Monday.
Footage showed Netanyahu and Sara disembarking the plane and being greeted by women in traditional Ukrainian embroidered dress holding out a tray with bread on it.
A smiling Netanyahu then breaks off a piece of bread and eats it. He then breaks off what appears to be a very small piece for Sara and hands it to her. Sara takes it, looks at it and discards it.
The incident was widely reported in Ukraine, where it drew mixed reactions, some angry by what was seen as Sara Netanyahu’s disrespect and others calling for the apparent misunderstanding not to be blown out of proportion.
Bread has an almost sacred status for many Ukrainians who see it as a symbol of life and use it in traditional ceremonies.
In Israel, local media described the incident as a gaff that had angered the prime minister’s Ukrainian hosts.
Netanyahu posted a video to his Facebook page, in which he dismissed the incident. “I am here on a historic visit to Ukraine. But it’s doubtful this visit would have gotten such a boost in media attention had there been no bread incident.
“The Ukrainian president’s chief of staff … said it is clear that Mrs. Netanyahu had no intention to disrespect Ukraine. He said ‘It’s complete nonsense’,” said Netanyahu.
Israeli Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman, on the delegation to Kiev, told Israeli Army Radio on Tuesday that Sara Netanyahu did not toss the bread, but rather, that it had simply crumbled away in her hand.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s spokeswoman, Iuliia Mendel told the Interfax Ukraine news agency on Monday: “This was done inadvertently and is in no way a manifestation of disrespect for Ukraine.”
Netanyahu and his wife have a stormy relationship with the Israeli media, which they have both accused of providing unfair and negative coverage of them.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Pavel Polityuk in Kiev; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)