Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself over the weekend from critical statements reportedly made by his former chief of staff Natan Eshel about Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
Kahlon is currently the subject of political pressure from all sides of the political map, because his Kulanu is the only party in Netanyahu’s coalition that has not said or hinted whether it would quit the government if there are serious police recommendations to indict Netanyahu for bribery.
The statements attributed to Eshel by Channel 10 political correspondent Sefi Ovadya called Kahlon “the coward from Olga,” the poor neighborhood of Hadera where the finance minister was raised.
“If he can’t handle the pressure of left-wing protesters who want to topple the prime minister, how could he be able to lead,” Eshel was quoted as saying. “Him staying in the government doesn’t have to do with what the police recommendations say but what is good for him politically. He would find an explanation for any situation.”
According to the report, Eshel quoted a July 2016 Ynet interview with Kahlon, in which he promised to not run again if housing prices don’t fall. Eshel pointed out that they haven’t fallen. Eshel also reportedly said that Kahlon would definitely run with Yesh Atid in the next election.
Eshel was forced to step down
from his post in the Prime Minister’s Office in February 2012 after he sexually harassed a co-worker subordinate to him. But he is still considered a close friend of Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.
He responded to the report by saying that he had merely forwarded statements of others and that he had apologized to Kahon on Friday.
“Kahlon is a terrific finance minister who I hope will have the job for many years, including back within the framework of Likud,” Eshel said.
A Likud spokesman denied allegations from Labor leader Avi Gabbay that the statements attributed to Eshel were actually said by Netanyahu himself. Gabbay said the statements were racist, because Olga was populated mostly by Sephardim when Kahlon was raised there.
“The statements attributed to Natan Eshel, whether or not they were said by him, go against the opinion of the prime minister, who respects Kahlon, is fully cooperating with him on the 2019 state budget, and will continue to work with him until the election in November 2019,” the Likud spokesman said.