Anne Ayalon, wife of Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Danny Ayalon, says she lives according to "American standards," a lifestyle that apparently permits her to require her housekeeper to bow to her and hurl insults at embassy employees.
It was 2 p.m., and the staff at the official residence of Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Danny Ayalon was having lunch. Mrs. Ayalon was irately pacing around them.
"Madam did not like it when we sat down to eat; I could see it on her face," former housekeeper Victoria Estrada said.
"So she came and asked that we take down a picture in the library that had been hanged crookedly. We told her we wanted to finish
eating first and then we would fix it," she said. "We had been working straight from 9 a.m. and were starving. I could tell Madam did not like that answer."
Eventually Mrs. Ayalon tended to the matter herself, but when permanent babysitter Virginia Podilla walked into the library, Ayalon exploded.
"Her face turned red and she yelled at Virginia like a crazy person," Estrada recalled.
"She yelled 'Who put that picture there! I had taken it down," former butler Aharon Cohen recalled. "So Virginia told her 'I put (the picture) there, but I am very sorry.'"
In response Ayalon said to her, "No, no, you will bow before me and say you're sorry."
According to Cohen, "she repeated it maybe three times – 'bow again,' she said to her. Podilla then packed up her belongings, threw away her key and said 'I am not coming here anymore.'"
Uncontrollable outbursts, unreasonable demands
The incident with Podilla took place in 2003, and following a complaint that had been filed by another employee, the Israeli embassy launched an internal inquiry into the matter.
A year later, a second round of talks was held when additional complaints regarding Ayalon poured in.
Employees who were summoned to testify all painted a similar picture of what was going on inside the ambassador's residence.
They spoke of Mrs. Ayalon's uncontrollable outbursts, unreasonable demands, and derogatory treatment.
Documents obtained by Yedioth Ahronoth reveal the embassy was aware of the goings on, yet refrained from taking any action.
'She's a perfectionist'
In fact, employees interviewed for this article said that whenever an argument between Ayalon and an employee erupted, the ambassador would simply leave the room, as though the matter did not concern him.
In private conversations Ambassador Ayalon dismissed the incidents as mere examples of his wife's devotion.
"She's a perfectionist," a close friend of Ayalon said. "It may be uncomfortable for a few people. She demands work and likes everything to be 'tip-top'."
However, what occurs within the confines of the ambassador's official residence are of public interest and concern, as the entire staff, which includes a cook, a maid, a janitor and a babysitter, is employed by the embassy and their salaries are funded by Israeli taxpayers' money.
The dinner and cocktail parties held at the residence are also funded by the government, in an effort to assist the Ayalon's in strengthening Israel's diplomatic ties.
But according to the employees' testimony, "Madam Ayalon" treated them as though their foremost priority should be to serve her and devote themselves to her whims.
New heights of strictness
Ayalon also made unreasonable requests to the embassy staff, despite the fact they are in no way subordinate to her.
"She demanded from (the embassy's) deputy director of finance, Yitzik Even-Ram, that Internet lines be installed in all the rooms at the ambassador's home, but the request was delayed shortly," a senior embassy source said. "So one day, in a room full of people, she yelled at him 'you're an idiot,' everyone present was shocked."
In March 2004 Antonio Salverio was hired as the new butler for the ambassador's residence.
Witnesses say Ayalon reached new heights of strictness in her behavior toward Salverio.
"Antonio came from the Philippines and his English was far from perfect," Victoria Estrada said. "Madam expected Antonio to speak fluently, and his incorrect English annoyed her, so she would tell him again and again that he was stupid."
"Antonio was severely distressed because he has high blood pressure. I told his wife that if they wouldn't leave, her husband would die," she said.
Salverio resigned after less than a year on the job.
'Allowed to choose our staff'
Anne Ayalon was born and raised in Archibald, Ohio, a small town outside Cleveland.
She met her husband-to-be in 1977 in Tel Aviv, when she visited the country as part of a student exchange program.
When asked whether she had ever referred to her employees as 'stupid', Ayalon answered, "You have just heard me call the butler a retard; and everyone will tell you he is retarded. So yes, I do use the word 'stupid.'"
She said she may have told the other workers that she believes he is "retarded," but never told him to his face.
"The ambassador and his wife are allowed to choose their staff," she said. "I suppose that if you were fired from Yedioth Ahronoth, you too would make up bad stories about your editors. I think Israel should appreciate what we do here in the embassy."
'She is highly regarded in Washington'
In response to the accusations by former staff members, Ambassador Ayalon said that while she is proud to represent Israel, she had to sacrifice a high-tech career along the way.
"For this role Anne gave up a senior position and a hefty income in the Israeli high-tech field, and she is doing her job here voluntarily and with all of her soul to represent Israel with honor. She is a wonderful woman and a great mother."
Israeli Embassy Spokesman David Segal said that the embassy was sorry for the publication and comments, " which completely distort reality, and for the cynical use of statements made by employees who have left more than a year ago due to incompetence."
"The ambassador's wife is highly regarded in Washington, carries out her job devotedly, represents Israel honorably, and hosts many events at the ambassador's residence," he said. "Many prominent Washingtonians would be glad to testify to this."