Aides to Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed as "lies and slander" on Sunday an employment lawsuit filed by a former maid against the Israeli prime minister's wife.
They said local media coverage, which recalled controversies over domestic staff during Netanyahu's first term in office in the 1990s, amounted to a smear campaign. Analysts saw little immediate political impact from furor, however.
A Tel Aviv labor court confirmed that a woman who had worked for Sara Netanyahu filed suit last week against the child psychologist and former El Al flight attendant who is the prime minister's third wife and mother of his two teenage sons.
Mass-selling newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth had splashed the story of the case on Friday. Rival Maariv followed up on Sunday with a broadside by its leading commentator, declaring the prime minister unfit to lead the nation due to his wife's behavior.
In response, an official in the prime minister's bureau read a statement saying the former housekeeper's suit was laden with "lies and slander", while Israeli media were engaging, he said, in a "tendentious campaign lacking any journalistic ethics".
"In total contrast to what is written in the lawsuit, the plaintiff Lillian received warm and affectionate treatment from Mrs. Netanyahu. It is this treatment that led her to stay six years with the Netanyahu family," the statement continued.
David Shimron, an attorney for Sara Netanyahu, said on Friday the complaints "bear not a single element of truth".
Citing court documents, Yedioth said Lillian Peretz sought compensation for underpayment from Sara Netanyahu. She also alleged she had "humiliated" her, occasionally shouting and insisting she change clothes during the working day to meet exacting demands for hygiene around the Netanyahu household.
The 51-year-old, whose husband returned a year ago to the prime minister's office, is no stranger to controversy. She stood by Netanyahu, 60, when he confessed on television to an extramarital affair during a party leadership campaign in 1993.
Later, when in office, Netanyahu defended his wife during a cascade of media stories alleging she was high-handed with staff and set unusually strict rules on cleanliness around the home. Some also complained about her role in her husband's office.
Few political analysts saw the latest coverage having much impact on the premier's standing, however. His second term has so far been marked by relative success in evading the global economic crisis and popular support for his resistance to Palestinian conditions for resuming peace negotiations.
"For now, I don't think this is going to have strong implications," said Israeli pollster Rafi Smith. "To say it will shake the political system is going too far."
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