ROLLING HIS EYES at the mention of her name, David Bar-Illan, senior aide to Benjamin Netanyahu, expressed his thoughts about Sara Netanyahu, the Prime Minister's wife.
"Look, Sara isn't the most stable woman in the world," said Mr Bar-Illan. "She now appears only at appropriate events, receptions for children, events for mentally retarded or the handicapped, and that works well. That's okay. At last, Sara has turned into a boring subject for Israelis. Were she to run half-naked in the streets, it would be different, but she's under control."
Mr Bar-Illan, a former concert pianist and newspaper editor who is politically on the far-right, is usually urbane and softly spoken. But yesterday the Prime Minister's office was politely wondering if he might not temporarily have gone insane. A senior Israeli official said: "If Bar-Illan said such things then he's apparently lost his wits." Meanwhile, Israel is waiting to see if Sara will ask her husband to fire him.
It was a bizarre interview to give to the New Yorker. Apparently, Mr Bar-Illan knew he was on the record when he spoke to the magazine's correspondent David Remnick about the political difficulties created by Mr Netanyahu's admission of adultery on television in 1993. "It's one thing to have an affair with a shiksa," Mr Bar-Illan said, using the derogatory Yiddish term for a non-Jewish woman. "Even rabbis do this with shiksa. But with a married woman?"
Nobody knows why Mr Bar-Illan volunteered this information to Mr Remnick. Mr Bar-Illan has been denying he said anything of the sort, though officials in the Prime Minister's office are quoted as saying he frequently makes derogatory remarks about Sara Netanyahu. They say he once comforted an office worker whom Sara had yelled at by saying: "Don't take her seriously. She has to be related to as though she's a three-year-old."
Sara Netanyahu has largely disappeared from public view since she fired a nanny for burning the soup and had the Prime Minister's security men forcibly eject her from the home. The former air stewardess is given to jealous rages, according to some witnesses, but there is no sign that she has influence on government policy.
She is deeply protective of her children. When one attended a kindergarten she insisted that a bodyguard be in attendance at all times.
In discussing the attitude of most Israelis to Mr Netanyahu's admission of adultery, Mr Bar-Illan says: "For many years nobody in Israel cared about things like that. Moshe Dayan screwed half the women in the army."
That remark has angered the Dayan family, notably Yael Dayan, his daughter and a member of the Knesset, and her mother Ruth. They said they would complain about Mr Bar-Illan to the attorney general.
The New Yorker article also quoted a United States official commenting on the cool relations between Mr Netanyahu and President Bill Clinton. "We relate to him [Netanyahu] as though he is the President of Bulgaria," said the unnamed official. "In fact, I think that Clinton went out on a run with the President of Bulgaria, so this comparison isn't fair."
The snideness of this remark reflects Mr Netanyahu's unpopularity in many quarters, but also frustration at his success. Despite endless negotiations, the US has been unable to get the Israeli Prime Minister to move on the Oslo accords with the Palestinians.
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