Boiling point at Netanyahu home 21-year-old nanny's domestic revelations intrigue Israeli media

July 04, 1996|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister with the American political persona, is facing an American-style political headache -- a blabbing nanny.

During his bid for Israel's top job, 46-year-old Netanyahu campaigned in the style of his American counterparts.

With telegenic good looks and catchy sound bites, he portrayed himself not only as a hard-line pragmatist on Arab-Israeli relations but as an attentive husband and father.

He walked hand-in-hand with his wife. He shared with the country the newest prayer his son had learned in kindergarten.

Rare stuff for Israelis unaccustomed to seeing or hearing about the spouses and children of their political leaders.

Since Netanyahu's election, media interest in Israel's first family has persisted. Tips from the couples' hair stylist. The itinerary of the Netanyahu children during the prime minister's coming U.S. visit (a trip to the Washington zoo and National Air and Space Museum).

And now the nanny, a 21-year-old immigrant from South Africa named Tanya Shaw.

Shaw's six-month employment with the Netanyahus ended abruptly Sunday, and she went straight to the mass-circulation Hebrew daily newspaper Ma'ariv.

She told the paper that Netanyahu's wife yelled at her for burning a pot of soup. The two quarreled and the nanny was asked to leave.

Shaw also revealed that Sara Netanyahu insisted she always wash her hands before touching the Netanyahu children, Yair, 5, and Avner, 6.

"Even Bibi has to wash his hands. He loves the children but he can't touch them because he has to wash his hands all the time," she told Ma'ariv.

In a statement, Netanyahu's office called Shaw's story "imaginative, mendacious." The premier's office also claimed Shaw showed "serious problems of instability" and needed to be kept from the Netanyahu house for security reasons.

Ma'ariv reported that Netanyahu's personal security detail never considered Shaw a risk.

Some see the uproar as a consequence of Americanizing Israeli politics.

"This is part of the American invasion of Israeli politics," said Dr. Eyal Naveh, a professor of American history at Tel Aviv University. "There are so many good things to imitate from America. Why do we take the bad things?"

For Netanyahu, the attention given to the nanny story may

represent the fallout of importing American-style politics to Israel. But it also reflects a difference in the local media's coverage of its politicians.

Joseph "Tomy" Lapid, a panelist on the popular Israeli news talk show "Popolitico" and chief editorial writer for Ma'ariv, admitted that the nanny story "is the sort of scoop Ma'ariv was not famous for in the past."

The media is trying to adapt to the new prime minister's style, he said, referring to the attention paid to the details of the Netanyahus home life.

"On the other hand," Lapid said, "the Israeli press is much to the left of the prime minister. They also use this opportunity to give him a few knocks."

In an appearance before the Foreign Press Association this week, Netanyahu was asked if he regretted exposing his family to television cameras and photographers' peering lens.

In his perfect American English, the prime minister evoked the United States.

"I think those of you who come from America know that you don't have to put your family in the eye of the media," Netanyahu said. "The media is there eyeing them."

The prime minister acknowledged the rights of a free press.

But he added, "There's a difference between that and excessive prying, and I think probably all of you as journalists know the fine line -- sometimes it's not fine. Sometime it's as broad as a barn."

But Hanna Kim, a columnist for Ha'aretz who has written about the prime minister's emulation of America-style politics, says Netanyahu brought the attention on himself.

"He pushed his family before the media because he wanted to sell an image of a family man," said Kim. "This is an image."

Pub Date: 7/04/96

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