JERUSALEM (AP) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu found himself engulfed in a fresh controversy Thursday after a former member of his housekeeping staff filed a lawsuit claiming he was mistreated and verbally abused by the Israeli leader's wife, Sara.
It was the latest in a string of cases to taint Israel's first family, who have been accused of enjoying an extravagant lifestyle while ignoring the plight of the struggling middle class. Netanyahu's office rejected the claims as "outrageous."
In his lawsuit, Meni Naftali says he was repeatedly subjected to abusive language, including an ethnic slur, by Sara Netanyahu during his 20 months on the job. He is seeking the equivalent of roughly $185,000 in damages.
In one instance, Naftali said that Sara Netanyahu called him at 3 a.m. to complain that he had bought milk in a plastic storage bag instead of a carton. In another, he claimed that she chastised him because some flowers in a vase were a day old, comparing the residence to the French presidential palace.
"When Sara saw flowers that were 'not fresh,' she flung them to the floor, as she yelled at Mr. Naftali calling him 'a bad housekeeper,' and that something like that would never occur in the 'Elysee Palace,'" the lawsuit says.
Naftali also claimed that Sara Netanyahu derided his ethnicity when he ordered food for them in a hotel, implying that his Middle Eastern background was somehow uncouth. Over the years, Jews of Middle Eastern ancestry have often been seen as an underclass in Israel compared to the politically dominant Jews of Ashkenazi, or European, descent.
"Mrs. Netanyahu castigated the plaintiff, and explained to him 'We are Europeans. We are refined, we don't eat as much as you Moroccans. ... You are fattening us and then when we are photographed abroad, we look fat,'" it said.
Naftali also claimed that Sara Netanyahu berated him for bringing his children to the residence on Israeli Independence Day, a national holiday.
"While it was clear that during the meal he could leave with them to his house, Mrs. Netanyahu did not like this and asked that the children leave the house immediately, and even bothered to scold him by saying that 'the prime minister also doesn't see his children.'"
Naftali, who is in his mid-30s, said he served in an elite military unit before joining the staff as a bodyguard to Netanyahu's two sons. He transferred to the housekeeping staff in February 2011 and remained there until leaving in November 2012. Although the prime minister continues to enjoy strong approval ratings, the latest lawsuit threatens to portray Netanyahu, a connoisseur of expensive cigars and cognac, as insensitive to the middle class. Just two years ago, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest the country's high cost of living.