Already under pressure from the international community over an ever-ailing peace process, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, found himself facing a fresh challenge on the domestic front: a lawsuit by a former caretaker of his official residence which contains acutely embarrassing allegations about his wife, Sara.
The picture of Mrs Netanyahu that emerges from the 1.1 million shekel (£190,000) case is one of a tyrannical, capricious waster of taxpayers’ money – while the Premier comes across as a husband who indulges her excesses.
“Sara Netanyahu: Israel’s Marie Antoinette’’ proclaimed a headline in the daily newspaper Haaretz, which opposes the Netanyahu government. The Prime Minister’s office dismissed the suit as baseless and aimed at sullying the reputation of the Netanyahus.
“The Prime Minister’s wife woke me at 3am after a gruelling day of work and with loud shouting reprimanded me for buying milk in bags and not cartons,’’ the suit quotes the ex-superintendent, Meni Naftali, who worked for the family for 20 months, as saying. “When I protested about the hour and the tone, the Prime Minister intervened and demanded I do all Mrs Netanyahu requested so that she would ‘calm down’.” Mr Naftali, who said the Prime Minister’s residence reneged on promises to give him a proper staff position, asserted that during his time there 29 other workers finished their service “on a bad note”.
The problem, according to the documents submitted to the Israeli Labour Court, was Mrs Netanyahu’s day-and-night demand for services. He said he worked hundreds of overtime hours a month and that 18-hour days were not unusual. “He worked arduously day and night to satisfy the Netanyahu family,” his lawyers wrote. “They rewarded him with arrogant and demeaning behaviour that climaxed in the unbridled outbursts of the Prime Minister’s wife.”
Mr Naftali recalled that on one occasion, Mrs Netanyahu entered a room and saw flowers that were not fresh in a vase. She threw them on the floor, saying “this would never happen in Elysée Palace”, he said. He added that she demanded he purchase thousands of shekels worth of candles each month, even though the household budget was only supposed to be for food.
Mr Naftali, a Moroccan Jew, also recalled being on the receiving end of ethnic stereo-typing by Ms Netanyahu. Once, he said, he brought food from a hotel for the premier’s family. Mrs Netanyahu, he said, criticised him for bringing too much food. “We are Europeans, we are delicate. We don’t eat so much like you Moroccans. You are stuffing us and then, when they photograph us abroad, we look fat,” she allegedly said.
The Prime Minister’s office responded that the allegations were “evil gossip’’, and that Mr Naftali was violating the couple’s privacy “in order to sully them with the intention of extracting money illegally from the Prime Minister’s office”. It added: “It is an extortionist and baseless suit. If it was so bad for him in the Prime Minister’s residence, why did he ask to be there on a permanent basis?”
It is not the first time the personal behaviour of the Netanyahus has come under scrutiny. Last May, it was revealed that the PM ordered a double bed to be installed on the aircraft carrying him and his wife to Baroness Thatcher’s funeral in London, at a cost of £83,000. Months earlier, it was revealed that the Netanyahus had spent £1,750 on ice cream in 2012.