Nanny sacking shows paranoia at Bibi's court

Israeli PM is plunged into scandal over her humiliation, says Patrick Cockburn
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Jerusalem - It all began when Tanya Shaw, 21-year-old nanny to the children of Binyamin Netanyahu, newly-elected prime minister of Israel, burned the soup on Sunday afternoon. Peremptorily sacked and ex-pelled from the Netanyahus house, she sobbed out her story of how she had been"humiliated" every day that she worked for the Netanyahus, as she sat on the pavement with her possessions spread on the ground around her.

Now, the story of Ms Shaw and the soup has caused shockwaves in Israeli political life.

Ms Shaw, who arrived from South Africa last year, said she had lived in the Netanyahu household for six months looking after their two boys, five-year-old Yair and his one-and- a-half-year-old brother Avner.

Relations were bad between her and Sara, 35, the prime minister's wife, who she says was always shouting at her.

On Sunday morning Ms Shaw was playing with Avner in a park near the house when a soldier on guard ran up and said: "Sara wants you now." Ms Shaw says that when she returned to the house, Sara shouted: "You left the soup on the stove and it burned." After accusing Ms Shaw of hating the children, Mrs Netanyahu told a policeman: "Throw her out of the house." When he demurred, a bodyguard of the prime minister was summoned who "said aggressively that I had to leave immediately. I started to cry, left the house and sat down".

Ms Shaw was only allowed back in to collect her belongings after three hours. She later told an Israeli reporter that "I need to wash my hands every time I touch the children".

All this might be written off as a spat between nanny and a highly protective mother.

Mr Netanyahu himself was only indirectly involved. But within hours Israelis got a hint of the style of their new government when the prime minister's office put out an un- pleasant statement denouncing Ms Shaw as a liar and a security threat.

"Serious problems of instability came out recently in the behaviour of the caretaker in the Netanyahu household," said the government announcement. "For this reason, security elements recommended that she be kept from the prime minister's house." All this is very much in the style of Mr Netanyahu's successful election campaign in which he emphasised threats to Israel's security. The statement concludes: "The Netanyahu family regrets the nanny's difficult situation, along with her imaginative, mendacious claims and will do whatever is needed to help her gain her balance."

If this is how the Netanyahu administration responds to a tear-stained nanny, how will it react to more serious opponents such as Syria or Hizbollah? Mr Netanyahu never held a senior policy-making post before becoming prime minister, but some of his recent appointments suggest, ominously, that he feels at home with people with a paranoid style.

In charge of the prime minister's press relations is David Bar-Illan, who as editor of the right-wing Jerusalem Post denounced even the New York Times as being a forum for anti-Israeli opinions. Yesterday he told Israeli army radio that Ms Shaw "is a bit disturbed".

Pinhas Fishler, director of the prime minister's office, also has a habit of reacting strongly to any perceived problems. He is currently demanding his police record be wiped clean after it was revealed that there had been 14 separate complaints against him, though he has never been charged. Two women and a former employee claimed he had made nuisance telephone calls to them, and his former wife accused him of threatening behaviour.

None of this will necessarily do lasting damage to Mr Netanyahu. In 1993 he survived denouncing his enemies for trying to blackmail him with a video proving his adultery. Like Bill Clinton after the Gennifer Flowers allegations, he brazened out the scandal. But the brutality with which Ms Shaw was treated after overboiling the soup is a warning for anybody whom the Netanyahu administration identifies as its enemy.