Israel's First Lady Accused of Abusing Cleaning Lady

Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is at the center of sensational tabloid newspaper allegations by her former cleaning lady.

Lillian Peretz filed a lawsuit in Tel Aviv last week claiming almost $70,000 in damages for underpayment and abusive behavior. The Netanyahus employed her for six years to clean their luxury villa in the exclusive Israeli resort of Ceasearea.

The leading Israeli daily Yedioth Aharanot splashed the story on its front page Friday, quoting from the lawsuit. It said that Sara Netanyahu insisted on being addressed as "Mrs. Sara Netanyahu" after her husband became prime minister last year.

She reportedly demanded that Peretz take several showers a day and bring four changes of clothing with her "to maintain maximum sterility and not pollute the house."

The paper also claimed Sara Netanyahu forced Peretz to work on the Jewish Sabbath and once called her at 2 a.m. in the morning to complain about ill-fitting pillow cases.

The latest scandal echoes similar accusations made against Sara Netanyahu in the 1990s when her husband was prime minister for the first time.

Netanyahu is a psychologist and former flight attendant with the Israeli airline El Al. She has two teenage sons and is the prime minister's third wife.

The prime minister's office leapt to her defense Sunday, issuing a statement saying that the lawsuit was filled with "lies and slander" and accusing the Israeli media of launching a "campaign lacking in any journalistic ethics.

"In total contrast to what is written in the lawsuit, the plaintiff Lillian received warm and affectionate treatment from Mrs Netanyahu."

Sara Netanyahu's Political Influence Over P.M. Criticized

Meanwhile, other former staff have surfaced to tell their stories of working with the Netanyahu family, as well as similarly damning reports of Sara's purported bad temper.

The issue has taken on political significance with increasing negative speculation on Sara Netanyahu's powerful influence over her husband's public role and political appointments.

"The person serving as the prime minister of Israel is unfit for the job," Maariv newspaper's leading columnist wrote Sunday. "Everyone surrounding him knows that."

Despite the excitable headlines, there seems little evidence so far of any real political damage to the prime minister.

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