How firing of Netanyahus au pair became a hot story

JERUSALEM — Au pairs and their employers often part with bitterness. But when it's the au pair of the prime minister's children, she also comes away with a very salable story.

So it was hardly surprising that after Tanya Shaw, 21, found herself summarily dismissed two weeks ago by Benjamin Netanyahu's wife, Sara, she turned to the Israeli daily newspaper Ma'ariv for help.

And thus Shaw and Ma'ariv begat Nannygate, the controversy surrounding the Netanyahus' firing of their au pair.

Ma'ariv reported finding her sitting on the sidewalk outside the Netanyahu home in Jerusalem, surrounded by her belongings and crying, eager to tell her story.

The next morning her father, Philip Shaw, an ex-South African and resident of the West Bank town of Efrat, phoned The Jerusalem Post offering more details than had appeared on Ma'ariv's front page.

He was with his daughter at a Jerusalem hotel, where her new benefactors were putting her up.

The family moved from Johannesburg to Tel Aviv last August, then to Efrat. About six months ago, while Tanya Shaw was still attending an ulpan, she applied for an au pair job through a Tel Aviv-based firm that matched her up with the Netanyahus.

After a thorough security check, "they called Tanya and said: `Come immediately,'" her father recalled. "Then they said she should come three days later; then they told her to sign a contract and start working immediately. She didn't have a chance to have the contract perused."

Her duties included not only looking after the two Netanyahu children, Yair and Avner, but also cooking for the family and cleaning, her father said.

Her day started when the children woke up, about 6:30 a.m. "We would call [on her private line] at 11:30 p.m. or midnight. Often, she was still working after midnight."

According to the contract, she was to have been paid on the ninth of each month, but "she was always paid later and…not in full," he said.

According to Philip Shaw, relations between his daughter and Sara Netanyahu were never good. "There were screaming matches," he said.

Four months ago, the au pair agency called the parents in for a meeting, saying relations between Sara Netanyahu and his daughter were very bad, he added.

A woman at the agency, who would identify herself only as Hilma, described Tanya Shaw as having "a high temper and a big mouth, and her parents acknowledge it," but added that she is a "good girl" and "knows how to apologize."

What happened on Tanya Shaw's last day of work with the Netanyahus is unclear. Ma'ariv quotes her as saying she was out with the Netanyahus' son Avner when a guard told her Sara Netanyahu wanted to see her immediately. According to Shaw, the prime minister's wife said, "You forgot the soup on the stove and it's burned."

After a heated exchange, in which Shaw said she was given two weeks' notice, and then five days' notice, Sara Netanyahu ordered a security guard to throw her out of the house, Ma'ariv reported. Three hours later, she was allowed back in to gather her belongings.

The Prime Minister's Office refused to say anything beyond a statement to Ma'ariv.

"The au pair's recent behavior in the Netanyahu home showed indications of acute instability," the statement said.

"In light of this, security recommended she be removed from the prime minister's home. The Netanyahu family intended to continue employing her till the end of the [one-year] contract, but an outburst bordering on violence led to a fire in the family kitchen, and led to her dismissal.

"The Netanyahu family regrets the au pair's severe condition and her imagined and false claims, and will do everything possible to help in her rehabilitation."

In interviews with the media, Shaw admitted that she and Sara Netanyahu had clashed before in the six months she worked for the family.

She described Sara Netanyahu as obsessed with cleanliness, making everyone wash their hands before touching the children and refusing to let the children play on the floor.

Shaw said she had not voted in the May 29 elections, in which her boss was elected prime minister, "because when I asked if I could come in late to vote, she said no."

Netanyahu, Israel's first directly elected prime minister, has been in the spotlight before because of his personal life.

In 1993, he went on television to admit that he had cheated on Sara, his third wife.