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Israeli "domestic issues" take on new meaning

Alleged abuse of staff by Netanyahu's third wife opens him up to political attack.

The Israeli public first heard about the suit in a screamingly large front-page headline in the country’s biggest newspaper. “Sara abused me, humiliated and exploited me,” the Yediot Aharonoth newspaper announced in revealing Peretz’s allegations earlier this month.

The legal content of the suit is perhaps less interesting to most Israelis than its allegation that Sara is a little unbalanced and that she shouts down her staff, the prime minister’s staff and Bibi himself daily. According to Peretz, Sara refers to herself as “the mother of the nation.”

Last week, Peretz complained to her local police station that she had received a threatening phone call from a man who told her to “end this whole thing in 12 hours, [or] you will be harmed personally. This comes from Bibi.”

The prime minister’s office said the call certainly didn’t come from Bibi.

During Netanyahu’s first term, his family life was often in the news. Sara, a former flight attendant who is now a psychologist, was accused by former staffers of abusing them and of excessive demands for cleanliness in handling the couple’s two sons.

In his years out of office, Netanyahu says privately, he learned many lessons about how to handle leaks from his cabinet and the demands of squabbling politicians. Until last week, he’d also learned how to keep a lid on potential controversy surrounding his third wife.

But Israeli politics is always more complex than it looks. In this case, the relentless promotion of Peretz’s case by Yediot may have more than just a bit to do with a fierce circulation war the newspaper is fighting with a free daily that backs Netanyahu.

Certainly it’s an opportunity for those who oppose the prime minister’s policies to get in a jab or two. In the Maariv newspaper, columnist Ben Caspit wrote that Bibi ought to resign.

“The fact that he permits that problematic woman [Sara] to decide, to appoint, to fire, to upset, to dictate and to apply pressure on organizations in their entirety renders him unfit” for office, Caspit wrote.

The criticism of Netanyahu is somewhat disproportionate, given the manner in which Israeli politics is generally conducted — it’s riven with corruption, egotism and public speeches which are little more than grandiose hissy-fits. If Caspit thinks the behavior of a politico’s wife disqualifies him from the public’s trust, perhaps he hasn’t looked at how Israel’s politicians behave. That’s the real unbecoming conduct.