David Horovitz, Jerusalem ISRAEL'S biggest-selling daily newspaper yesterday carried an extraordinary nine-page assault on Mrs Sara Netanyahu, the wife of the Prime Minister, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu, depicting her as paranoid, vindictive, corrupt and delusional - an Imelda Marcos, but with a wider range of extravagant compulsions.
Already noted for emotional outbursts in the course of television interviews and for sacking several of her children's nannies, Mrs Netanyahu emerges here in a darker light. She is reported to underpay employees, including the hairdresser she uses every day, on the grounds that they should be "honoured" to work for the prime minister's wife. She is said to have pressured one of her secretaries, an Orthodox woman, to break Jewish religious law by taking her phone calls on the sabbath. And, perhaps saddest of all, she appears to have compelled her husband to sever connections with Noah, his teenage daughter from a former marriage.
Pre-empting publication of the article in Yediot Ahronot, Mr Netanyahu on Thursday night castigated the continuing media demonisation of Sara, his third wife, as "evil" and "beneath contempt". But the three Yediot reporters who co-wrote the piece argue in it that Mrs Netanyahu's eccentric behaviour, and her unstinting efforts to influence government appointments, raise questions about whether she is pushing her husband into making ill-considered decisions that might harm the country. The article also hints at possible breaches of law by Mrs Netanyahu, noting that her predilection for keeping gifts which ought to be turned over to the state and "her disinclination to pay for services she receives, raise the suspicion of impropriety and the improper acceptance of gratuities. And that's not an issue for the gossip columns, but for the State Comptroller's Office."
Mrs Netanyahu signalled that she aspired to "First Lady" status when, at the celebratory rally with which her husband marked his election victory in June 1996, she surprised the organisers by insisting on taking a seat beside his on the podium, leaving one Knesset member without a chair. Since then, she has accompanied Mr Netanyahu on almost all of his foreign trips, taking their two young sons along too. Efforts by the Netanyahus to present themselves as a happy family have always been undermined by the fact that Mr Netanyahu confessed on television in 1993 to having cheated on his wife. It has been widely reported that Mrs Netanyahu threatened to leave him at this point, but that her husband, aware that a third divorce would destroy his career, pledged to be faithful and even, according to some reports, signed a legal document to this effect.
His past infidelity might go some way to explaining Mrs Netanyahu's horror of contact between her husband and attractive women. She tried to block the appointment of Ms Limor Livnat, the only female cabinet minister. And when Mr Netanyahu meets Ms Livnat, staff at the prime minister's office falsify his diary, which she checks daily, by adding names of fake additional participants.
In one incident described in yesterday's article, Mrs Netanyahu is said to have screamed abuse at her husband in the corridors of a TV studio because the singer Ofra Haza had touched his arm in the course of a talk show. When he tried to calm his wife, Mrs Netanyahu reportedly threatened: "If you don't take your hands off me, I'll tell the police that you hit me."
The article catalogues incidents showing Mrs Netanyahu requiring her husband's bodyguards to clean up after her children, making outrageous demands for luxurious offices at an organisation where she does only a modicum of volunteer work, and humiliating her staff. It also claims that, after her security staff suggested she should throw away a bottle of wine, received as a gift, because they were uncertain of its origin and feared it might be poisoned, she demanded that two of her staff members sample it. "Do you realise," one of them is quoted as saying later, "that she didn't care that I might die? What mattered was that she would get the wine."