New revelations in sexual harassment case of Netanyahu's ex-chief of staff

Years before the #MeToo campaign, allegations of sexual harassment emerged in the Prime Minister's office.

December 21, 2017 02:41
4 minute read.
Nathan Eshel

Nathan Eshel 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Details of the sexual harassment case that led to the dismissal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff Natan Eshel from public service are now being revealed.

The handling of the case by law enforcement authorities led to Eshel undergoing a disciplinary hearing by the Civil Service Commission, although in many people’s opinion there was room for a criminal investigation.

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The testimonies that were collected at the time by the commission’s disciplinary department have now been published. The document spans 21 pages of grave testimonies by 28 employees, including some of the most senior officials of the Prime Minister’s Bureau – Israel’s holiest of holies, about the disturbing obsession Eshel developed with R., one of his subordinates between 2010-2011.

The document was received by The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication Maariv. Here is the testimony of then-cabinet secretary, Tzvi Hauser:

“Yoaz Hendel [responsible for PR in the Prime Minister’s Office] entered my office and... told me that he recently became friends with R.... and that she had opened her heart to him and told him about her difficult relationship with Natan Eshel...”

“The main point of the matter is that R. is experiencing an unbearable reality, in which her privacy is violated by Eshel, her email inbox is inspected against her will, she fears he is following her... Hendel added that R. told him that Eshel took a number of embarrassing photos of R., including up her skirt, and that knowledge of these pictures reached other office personnel when Eshel’s iPhone was taken for repair...”

“I was also serving as acting director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office and felt obliged, as R.’s employer, to act on this information... I suggested that we share the information and consult with Brig.-Gen. Yohanan Locker [then the prime minister’s military secretary]...”

“I must note that when Yoaz told me about the photo incident, it immediately brought to mind another odd and embarrassing incident I was witness to myself... It happened during a meeting in Eshel’s room.”

“Eshel was holding his iPhone in his right hand in a strange way – the hand was stretched downward and he was moving his hand and body as if trying to read what was written on the screen... but when I looked at the screen, which was facing my direction, I was amazed that it was not an attempt to read text, because the camera application was activated and through the monitor I could clearly see hips and the line between the legs and the rear side of the skirt. After about five seconds, Eshel noticed I could see what he was doing and snapped his hand and body backwards and the discussion continued as usual.”

“Yoaz agreed to include Locker and three of us held a conversation. Locker... believed the fact that she shared her feelings with her surroundings was evidence that she was in real distress and that perhaps this was just the tip of the iceberg. He also expressed concern that she might carry out a suicidal act, that these were severe acts, perhaps even criminal.”

“We decided that Yoaz and I would talk to the attorney-general... The conversation took place on December 12, 2011.”

“On December 20, Yoaz relayed another conversation that he had held with R. that same day, during which she recounted [that]... Eshel summoned her to his room claiming that his computer had broken down and that at some point she leaned toward the computer and felt a foreign object between her legs.”

This was Hauser’s testimony. The testimony of Hendel and Locker are no less disturbing. Others testified that they also saw Eshel pointing his cellular camera under R.’s skirt during official meetings, one of them in the US Congress.

The deplorable activity went on for months without anyone doing anything to end it.

Those who did paid a personal cost. Hendel was almost immediately removed from the bureau, Hauser was forced to resign at the end of the term and although he had planned to run for Knesset in the Likud, passed on the possibility because he knew the prime minister would act against him. Locker was not appointed air force commander, a position for which he was competing.

When Eshel quit the bureau, Netanyahu published a supportive statement, praising Eshel’s achievements while completely ignoring the camera incidents.

Eshel released the following statement in response to the report:

“I am shocked that testimonies that were never handed to us and are supposed to be solely in the hands of the Civil Service Commission were leaked. In addition, in contrast to what you present, it must be remembered that I was prosecuted for a disciplinary offense with no sexual nature. This recycling of a disciplinary incident that happened six years ago is motivated by Ben Caspit’s desire for personal revenge on me.”

This article originally appeared in Maariv.

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