Beyond Bottle-gate: The Top 11 Scandals That Have Touched Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu

Sara Netanyahu's empty bottle deposit habit is just the latest headline-grabbing antic during the prime minister's political career. It seems the Israeli public is very forgiving.

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The Netanyahus at a maimouna event in Or Akiva in 2013.
The Netanyahus at a maimouna event in Or Akiva in 2013.Credit: Avishag Sha-ar-Yashuv

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara have been entangled in numerous scandals, some deemed ethically dubious and others borderline illegal, during the Israeli leader's political career. Yet, none has contributed to Netanyahu's political downfall, indicating that the public is very forgiving of or indiferrent to such antics.

Here's a rundown of the scandals that have touched Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, during his political career (in descending chronological order):

1) Bottle-gate: Sara Netanyahu allegedly kept thousands of shekels from deposits on empty bottles that were returned, on her orders, to Jerusalem supermarkets over several years, even though the bottle deposits were state property.

2) Pig-gate and shrimp-gate: The ultra-Orthodox Jewish press last year decried Netanyahu's public eating behavior while in the United States. First he ate veal in a "pig restaurant" together with Sheldon Adelson in September. Undaunted, he met with donors at a seafood restaurant shortly thereafter.

3) Bibi-Tours: A draft report by the state comptroller says that when Netanyahu headed Israel's treasury, "organizations and private individuals with various links to the finance minister and/or the Israeli economy funded [his] trips abroad.” The draft was drawn up two years ago and has not been released but was seen by a Channel 10 reporter, Raviv Drucker.

4) Sara and her housekeepers: In March 2014, the Netanyahus' former house manager, Mani Naftali, who was previously personal bodyguard to Sara and the couple's two boys, filed a suit demanding 1 million shekels of compensation for what it said was abusive conduct by Sara. The complaint alleged humiliations, racist remarks and angry fits to which he was subjected, and it said the Netanyahus didn't pay him all that he was owed for his work.

5) The Expensive In-Flight Bed: In 2013, the Netanyahus attended Margaret Thatcher's funeral. For a five-hour flight to London on El Al, the prime minister's office was charged an extra 500,000 shekels to create a sleeping suite and accommodate a double bed. It was also reported that the prime minister's three residences had cost the public $1 million in 2012, well over budget.

6) The ice cream affair: In February 2013, Haaretz reported, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a state-financed contract worth 10,000 shekels a year for ice cream purchases at his official residence. The Prime Minister’s Office said the deal was "a master contract meant to accommodate guests at the prime minister's official residence, and did not necessarily mean the entire sum would be spent."

7) An adviser and sexual harassment: Natan Eshel, a former chief of staff for Netanyahu, confessed to photographing an employee of the Prime Minister's bureau "improperly" in 2012 and was subsequently forced to resign, Haaretz reported.

8) The (disgruntled) help: In 2010, Lillian Peretz filed a lawsuit against Sara Netanyahu, demanding 300,000 shekels of compensation for, among other things, unpaid wages. The suit said Sara screamed at Peretz and gave her work that she could not complete. Haaretz reported that the suit said that Sara demanded that the housekeeper return to the couple's home on the eve of Passover to do the family's laundry and then refused to pay additional compensation. Peretz received backing from Naomi Igos, who worked for Sara Netanyahu during her husband's first term as prime minister in the 1990s.

"When I read the report on Friday [about Peretz's suit], it took me back 12 years," Igos said. "The whole way in which [Mrs. Netanyahu] behaved, the yelling, the wild behavior, the phone calls at night - [and even though I am] a religious person, I was supposed to be available by phone on Shabbat."

A month later, another ex-housekeeper sued Sara Netanyahu for 40,000 shekels for allegedly refusing to grant her the compensation she deserved when she concluded her employment. She settled for 20,000 shekels.

9) Contractor Case: In 1999, the attorney general decided against a police recommendation to file charges against Netanyahu. Reports said that the police suspected Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu conspired with a government contractor in a kickback scheme.

10) Bar-On Hebron: Netanyahu named Roni Bar-On attorney general in 1997. Haaretz reported that the move was criticized because Bar-On was relatively inexperienced for the job. But the paper also reported allegations of a deal: that Aryeh Deri had backed Bar-On for the job in return for favorable treatment of the corruption charges that the Shas politician was facing. Another part of the alleged deal, Haaretz reported, was that Shas was to vote in favor of the controversial Hebron accord to help Netanyahu. Bar-On resigned as attorney general after a day in the post. Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein ultimately filed no charges against any of the figures in the matter.

11) Bibi-gate: Netanyahu's first major scandal of his political career emerged in 1993, when he admitted on television to having an extramarital affair with Ruth Bar, a media adviser he had hired to help him in 1992's Likud party primary. Netanyahu asserted that an anonymous person had called Sara and threatened that a secret videotape portraying Netanyahu in compromising sexual positions with another woman would be released if he did not withdraw his candidacy for the Likud leadership. The affair blew over, and Netanyahu won the election. It was not Netanyahu's first extramarital affair. He had started an affair during his first marriage to Miriam Weizman with Fleur Cates, a British woman he met while in the United States, who became his second wife.

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