Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu related for the first time on Thursday to the
harassment allegations leveled against his bureau chief Natan Eshel, saying the
claims were being examined and there was a need to wait patiently before drawing
Netanyahu made his comments at a weekly meeting in his
office attended not only by Eshel, but also by the three other top officials who
went to the attorney-general to complain about Eshel’s alleged behavior toward
one of his subordinates. The senior officials were cabinet secretary Tzvi
Hauser, military attaché Maj.- Gen. Yohanan Locker and communications director
Hauser’s and Hendel’s complaint to Attorney-General Yehuda
Weinstein, and the subsequent investigation that the Civil Service Committee
launched, is what thrust the issue – and speculation about what goes on inside
the Prime Minister’s Office – into the headlines.
Despite the obvious
discomfort involved, one official in the Prime Minister’s Office said that
Thursday’s meeting was held in a professional atmosphere.
He said the
office was carrying on with the “normal conduct of business,” claiming that
“positive working relationships have not been harmed,” but he acknowledged that
this affair was very much on everyone’s mind.
“The country is facing
serious challenges, and we need to deal with those,” Netanyahu said during the
meeting, after urging patience while the matter was examined.
those remarks, the meeting turned to the agenda for Sunday’s weekly cabinet
Though Eshel returned to work Thursday after a couple of days
off, the woman he allegedly harassed did not.
Various media outlets on
Thursday said she did not intend to file a complaint. The media quoted sources
close to Eshel as saying he denied the allegations.
According to a
Channel 1 report Thursday night, the female employee, 35, told Hendel of the
alleged harassment late last year when they were on a business trip to the US.
The woman complained that Eshel, her direct boss, intruded on her privacy by
going through her cellular phone messages and emails, and harassed her by
following her outside working hours.
Hendel returned to Israel and
relayed the allegations to Hauser and Locker. They then sought advice from
former attorney-general Menahem Mazuz, who advised them not to tell Netanyahu so
he would not get involved in the issue; rather, he said, they should take the
matter up directly with Weinstein.
Weinstein decided that the Civil
Service Commission’s disciplinary division would conduct a preliminary
investigation into the matter.
According to Channel 1, the disciplinary
division on Thursday questioned one of those who went to
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office insist that Netanyahu
was not apprised of the situation beforehand.
On Thursday, pressure began
to mount for the prime minister to suspend Eshel, one of his closest advisers.
Watchdog group the Movement for Quality Government called on Netanyahu and Prime
Minister’s Office director-general attorney Harel Locker to consider this move
while the Civil Service Commission conducted its inquiry.
In a letter to
Netanyahu and Locker, the Movement for Quality Government referred to Article 48
of the Civil Service Law, which gave the minister responsible for a worker the
right to suspend that worker, in the case of a complaint filed against him on
grounds of a severe breach of discipline, and in circumstances where a
suspension would protect the Civil Service.
The Movement for Quality
Government said that while media reports had not revealed details of the
complaint against Eshel, they nevertheless painted a harsh picture, not least
because the alleged complaints were filed by three senior Prime Minister’s
Office officials. The prime minister should therefore consider suspending Eshel
according to the powers granted by law, the letter concluded.
Wednesday, civil rights group Ometz also appealed to Locker to suspend Eshel
until the completion of the inquiry.
Late Wednesday night, the Justice
Ministry issued a statement saying that the Civil Service Commission had not yet
completed its initial inquiry into the allegations. The inquiry was being
conducted in conjunction with Justice Ministry officials, who were being updated
about it, a Justice Ministry spokesman said.
Also in its statement, the
ministry stressed it would not provide any details of how the information
regarding the suspicions had come to the attorney-general’s attention, but
clarified that in this case, those who obtained the information “had been
expected, within the capacity of their role, to transfer it to the appropriate
officials in order for them to examine it and check its merits.”
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