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Tuesday, 28 March, 2000, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
The Netanyahus: A colourful partnership
The Netanyahus
The Netanyahus met at Amsterdam airport
By BBC Online's Emma Batha

As former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu celebrated his election victory in June 1996, his wife Sara surprised everyone by insisting on a seat beside him on the podium.

But Mrs Netanyahu's attempts to carve herself the role of an American-style First Lady soon met with unrelenting hostility from the media which portrayed her as vindictive and delusional.


Mrs Netanyahu:
Mrs Netanyahu: Accused of being paranoid
Mr Netanyahu branded the continuous media assault as "evil" and "beneath contempt".

He first saw his future wife in the duty-free shop at Amsterdam airport when she was working as an air stewardess.

He was twice divorced and she had one marriage behind her. They wed after she became pregnant and have two sons.

Affair

During Mr Netanyahu's time as prime minister, the couple were frequently seen hugging and kissing in public.

But efforts by the Netanyahus to present themselves as a happy family have always been overshadowed by the fact that Mr Netanyahu confessed in 1993 to having cheated on his wife.


Mr and Mrs Netanyahu
Mrs Netanyahu helped her husband on his election campaign
It is said Mrs Netanyahu threatened to leave him, but that her husband pledged to be faithful, fearing a third divorce would scupper his political ambitions.

Since then she has been constantly at his side.

When Mr Netanyahu became prime minister it was widely reported that she had drawn up a contract demanding she be taken on all foreign trips.

And during the run-up to last year's election she would accompany him to the Likud Party offices at night to help on his campaign.

Tantrum

But it is Mrs Netanyahu's emotional outbursts on television and her treatment of staff that have often landed her in the headlines.


Mrs Netanyahu
Mrs Netanyahu could face criminal charges
Within the first 18 months of her husband's tenure, she had fired two secretaries and three nannies, one for reportedly burning the soup.

She also threw shoes at a housekeeper after objecting to the way they were polished and made staff taste gifts of chocolate and wine in case they were poisoned.

More seriously, she was said to have pressured her husband into severing relations with his daughter Noa by a former marriage.

Paranoid

The Israeli left portrayed her as a petulant, paranoid woman, who followed her husband everywhere to make sure he did not stray again.

She was said to have tried to block the appointment of Limor Livnat, the only female cabinet minister.

And she gave her husband a roasting after the singer Ofra Haza touched him during the recording of a television chat show.

In 1998, her former husband, Doron Neuberger, said her erratic personality, combined with her influence over Mr Netanyahu, represented a threat to Israel.

Turning point

Mr Netanyahu, known as Bibi to friends and enemies alike, had a brief but exciting three years in power.

His election in 1996, by the narrowest of margins, represented a major turning point in Israeli politics.

He was the first leader to be born after the creation of the Jewish state, and unlike most of his predecessors, his views were firmly on the right.

Former leaders, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, had supported the return of some land to the Arabs as means of winning security, but Mr Netanyahu's view was that security was paramount - and land was necessary to bolster security.

Charges

Mr Netanyahu survived rather than prospered, and was forced out of government last May after he called elections 17 months early.

But no sooner had he left office than the couple found themselves at the centre of a theft and bribery investigation.

It is alleged among other things that the Netanyahus kept hundreds of gifts that should have been turned over to the state.

The recommendation that the couple now face criminal charges would deal a serious blow to any possible political comeback.

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28 Mar 00 | Middle East
Police move to charge Netanyahu
21 Oct 99 | Middle East
Netanyahu quizzed by police
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