Sara Netanyahu: Israeli premier's scandal-plagued wife

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Sara Netanyahu the wife of Israel's prime minister, who was convicted Sunday of misusing public funds, has long been the target -- with her husband -- of corruption and mismanagement allegations.

With her shoulder-length blonde hair and always made-up face, she is widely said to be at the heart of decision-making for everything from who should head the spy agency Mossad to the list of parliamentary candidates in her husband's Likud party.

But her supporters -- first and foremost her husband Benjamin Netanyahu -- accuse the media of a witch-hunt, claiming she has no say in public affairs and devotes her energies to helping those in need.

Born in a town in northern Israel, her father was a poet author and educator.

Sara, now 60, served in the Israeli military before studying psychology.

She was married to a member of a kibbutz between 1980-1987, and met Netanyahu while working as an air stewardess for the Israeli flag carrier El Al after her divorce.

She married Netanyahu in 1991 and the pair have two sons: Avner, who keeps away from the public eye, and the older and outspoken Yair, who vehemently defends his parents and his father's policies while savaging opponents on social media.

While present at many of her husband's public events and overseas trips, Sara also holds a part-time position as an educational psychologist for the Jerusalem municipality.

Recordings of her screaming at cleaning staff in the prime minister's official Jerusalem residence reached the press, causing waves of contempt but also concern for her emotional health.

Sara Netanyahu is being sued by a former cleaner who claims the premier's wife mistreated her.

In 2016 a court awarded some $47,000 in damages to another former housekeeper who had accused Sara of repeated workplace abuse.

Sara Netanyahu's conviction on Sunday for using public funds to pay for meals brought an end to a trial that risked further exposing the Netanyahu's lifestyle, which critics say is a combination of luxury wed with pathological stinginess.

- 'Punching bag for media' -

Benjamin Netanyahu -- a millionaire -- is also facing possible indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the months ahead.

In one case, the premier and his wife are suspected of having received luxury gifts, including cigars and champagne, from wealthy individuals, including Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for financial or personal favours.

On Saturday Netanyahu -- who is gearing up for September polls after failing to form a coalition following April general elections -- took to Facebook to defend his wife.

He denied that Sara was involved in Israeli public affairs, describing her as a "real heroine" who was "a punching bag for the media".

"Anyone who is not appointed to a position, or anyone who is dismissed from a position, knows what to do: Attack Sara," he wrote.

"The facts and the truth do not matter at all. Sara has long been a punchbag for the media," Netanyahu said.

He detailed her work with "children with cancer, bereaved families...Holocaust survivors, and many other people in need".

"My beloved wife, you are a real heroine," concluded Netanyahu.