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Yesh Atid demands to keep Eshel out of gov't talks
By LAHAV HARKOV
27/01/2013
WIZO, new Meretz MK petition attorney-general to stop ex-PMO chief of staff from joining negotiations for Likud Beytenu, despite sexual harassment plea deal.
 
Yesh Atid will not negotiate with former Prime Minister’s Office chief of staff Natan Eshel, after incoming Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg and the Women’s International Zionist Organization wrote petitions to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein demanding he not be part of Likud Beytenu’s coalition talks team.

Eshel left his post in February after a plea bargain with the Civil Service Commission, which determined he harassed a female staffer and invaded her privacy.

As part of the deal, Eshel agreed not to return to the civil service, but he remains close with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his family.

Likud Beytenu reportedly plans to have Netanyahu’s attorney David Shimron lead the negotiations, while Eshel will serve as an external, unofficial adviser on the talks.

Following complaints from Zandberg and WIZO, Yesh Atid announced on Sunday night that they would not participate in talks if Eshel is involved.

“Like many other women, I was dumbfounded by this information,” Zandberg wrote.

“Eshel admitted to inappropriate behavior with the female worker, photographed her without her permission and went through her personal email.”

Zandberg demanded that Weinstein enforce the plea bargain and instruct Netanyahu not to use Eshel in any public position.

“Send a clear message that sexual harassment and violence against women are serious crimes,” she wrote.

The incoming Meretz MK quoted Weinstein as saying that Eshel’s resignation “is a moral message to all government employees, no matter how senior, that we will not ignore phenomena like those found in the investigation.”

Zandberg expressed outrage upon learning Eshel is once again advising Netanyahu on a “significant component of Israeli democracy” that will influence Israelis in the coming years.

“This fact is disrespectful to women and makes light of Eshel’s actions in a government office,” she wrote. “His return [to public service] through the back door and against the spirit of the plea deal authorizes violence against women and sends the message that crimes like this are not serious enough that their punishment be enforced.”

WIZO Israel chairwoman Gila Oshrat also petitioned Weinstein, asking that Eshel’s appointment be canceled.

“Even in a workplace like the Prime Minister’s Office there is not a safe climate, and women are exposed to repeated harm,” she wrote. “Eshel’s return to public life sends a clear message to women that they should not complain [if sexually harassed].”

Meanwhile, a Facebook group calling for parties to boycott coalition talks if Eshel is involved had over 2,800 members at press time.

“The sex offender Natan Eshel will be part of the Likud’s negotiation team in forming the next government,” the group explains. “Thus, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu continues to authorize violence against women.”

The group specifically mentions Yesh Atid, calling for the women in the party not to be a “fig leaf” covering Eshel’s actions, and the Bayit Yehudi, saying the party must clarify that the will not tolerate his continued presence in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Yoaz Hendel, a journalist and former director of communications for the Prime Minister’s Office who filed a complaint against Eshel at the beginning of 2012, and resigned soon after, addressed the issue in a note on his Facebook page.

“Until today, I made sure not to deal with the Natan Eshel scandal, but this must be said – and not because of the price I paid personally – we cannot reconcile ourselves to having those who make decisions give up moral norms,” Hendel wrote. “We deserve a personal example [from leaders] and not a smudging of the border between good and bad.”

A letter from an incoming MK or a petition is not necessary to understand this, he added, only common sense.

“Never mind new politics. Clean politics is enough,” Hendel concluded.

Likud Beytenu did not respond to requests to comment on the matter.
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