Two months after resigning as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s communications director over the Natan Eshel Affair, Yoaz Hendel said Saturday that he had received a complaint about an incident of sexual harassment from the woman at the center of the scandal that forced Eshel from office.
Eshel, at one time the most powerful man in the Prime Minister’s Office, was forced to resign from his position in February after signing a plea bargain agreement admitting to misconduct toward a young female staffer.
Hendel, speaking publicly about the matter for the first time on Channel 2’s Meet the Press program, said he heard about the incident from the woman, known only as R, and “that it took me time to understand the gravity of the matter.”
After a couple of conversations with her, “the penny fell,” he said.
“I heard about an incident of sexual harassment,” he said. “For two nights I did not sleep, and I was undecided about what to do. I realized that nothing good to me would come from this if I took it forward, but I decided that I had no choice in the end.”
Hendel, who served in his position for only seven months, quit after Netanyahu called him into a meeting, expressed anger that he was not apprised of the matter and said he had lost confidence in him.
Hendel said one of the most difficult things in deciding whether to take R’s complaints further was that he realized that by doing so he would not only be sealing his own fate inside the office, but he would likely also be sealing the fate of Eshel, even though “I did not personally see anything.”
After seeking legal advice, Hendel was told to take the matter not to the prime minister, but rather to the attorney-general, which is what he did. This led to an investigation by the Civil Service Commission. As a result of that investigation, Eshel signed a plea bargain agreement in which he admitted to breaching civil service discipline and of conduct unbecoming for a civil service employee. He agreed to accept a punishment consisting of a severe reprimand for his conduct.
While the plea bargain agreement included admitting to intruding on the woman’s privacy by logging into her computer without her permission, and by giving personal and private information about her to various people in the Prime Minister’s Office without any professional reason for him to do so, it said nothing about sexual harassment.
Eshel, in fact, said in a statement released at the time of the plea bargain that it removed suspicion that he committed indecent acts or sexual harassment.
The woman herself never filed any formal sexual harassment complaint.
Hendel, who on Friday once again began writing a column for Yediot Aharonot that he had stopped when he took up his position in Netanyahu’s office, wrote that “what is important is that the right thing was done. Senior managers in the Prime Minister’s Office are expected to abide by at least the same high norms as those in [the IDF’s] officers course.”