Former house manager wins NIS 170,000 in civil case against Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu

New Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit will ultimately decide their fate in the criminal case, but the loss in the civil case was not a good sign for them.

By
February 10, 2016 15:19
Benjamin and Sara Netanyah

Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu at Ben Gurion Airport. (photo credit: PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE)

 
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The Jerusalem Region Labor Court on Wednesday ruled against the Prime Minister’s Office and Sara Netanyahu, and in favor of their former house manager in a civil case, ordering the state to pay him NIS 170,000 for poor treatment and failure to pay him for overtime hours.

Separately, the court rejected a defamation claim by the house manager, Meni Naftali, against the prime minister personally for an interview he gave to Channel 2 aimed at combating Naftali’s allegations.

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The judges said his comments were too general and not explicitly directed at Naftali.

Naftali was house manager from February 2011 to November 2012.

Though noting the money would not be enough to cover all of his needs, he responded jubilantly at the ruling, declaring, “David beat Goliath” and angrily accusing the Netanyahus of blocking him for months from finding work.

“I did not come to attack the government. There is not one word in the ruling that says that I was not right,” Naftali said.

Nava Pinchuk-Alexander, one of Naftali’s lawyers, said: “I am happy about the ruling. The judgment shows that it is impossible to violate the rights and dignity of workers. No one is above the law including the wife of the prime minister.”

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Another lawyer, Naomi Landau, said “the court did a historic justice” and that “employees are not property.”

Asked whether they would appeal, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry’s civil division, which defended the Netanyahus in the civil suit, said: “We will review the decision and its consequences and weigh our options.”

The Jerusalem Post has learned that the ministry likely views the decision as having a number of legal errors, but they may not be sufficient to warrant an appeal – especially if from a public relations perspective the Netanyahus decide to take the hit and just move on.

In March, Naftali testified against Sara Netanyahu, stating she often drank excessive amounts of alcohol.

During his testimony at the trial on accusations of labor law violations, Naftali claimed that various Prime Minister’s Office officials had broken promises they had allegedly made to him that they would make his house manager position permanent, an upgrade from his status as temporary manager over an extended period.

Naftali also complained that there was an incitement and intimidation campaign against him, including breaking into his home.

In May, Sara testified, rebuking Naftali and the media, saying that nasty rumors had been spread about her by the media for over a year, “but until now my voice was not heard.”

She added, “Most of the things I see in the media are incorrect.”

She had said, “The baseless lies, slander and mudslinging which Meni Naftali told about the wife of the prime minister in court, who is not even a defendant in his case, are scandalous. Nothing less than that.”

Ultimately though, the three-person panel of Judge Dita Pruginin, employee representative Natan Mizrahi and employer representative Eliezer Yaari believed Naftali over Sara almost across the board.

In their decision, they wrote regarding Sara’s attacks on Naftali that “there was no evidentiary basis in what was presented before us, and there was not even an iota of proof to support them.”

Furthermore, the court took Sara to task, saying, “It is regrettable that Mrs. Netanyahu chose to so severely slander her former employees from the residence without even a minimal evidentiary basis for the claims.”

Generally speaking, the court also slammed Sara as creating a work environment of “exaggerated requests, insults, humiliation and breaking into tantrums.”

The court said that Sara’s conduct led to “an inordinate high turnover rate of employees” and a “chronic lack of human resources” to fill jobs at the residence.

Part of the reason the court accepted Naftali’s side of the story was that he received compliments from Ezra Seidoff, deputy director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, and other witnesses on the state’s side, including for exemplary handling of important events, such as the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

During the trial, Naftali’s lawyer also questioned Seidoff, who has been the most prominent in the headlines following then-attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein’s decision last year to order a criminal investigation, separate from Naftali’s civil claim, into the allegations surrounding the Prime Minister’s Residence.

While Weinstein exempted the prime minister from criminal suspicion, Sara and Seidoff have both been questioned under caution.

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit will ultimately decide their fate in the criminal case, but the loss in the civil case was not a good sign for them, even though criminal and civil cases are very different animals.

The dangers in the civil case for Seidoff as regards the criminal investigation were apparent, with his refusing to answer several questions in Naftali’s civil case to avoid possible incrimination in the criminal case.

Seidoff was also ambushed with comments he had made against Sara from a much earlier case around 16 years ago. He attempted to brush these off as from the past.

In his affidavit filed in March, Seidoff went on the attack, saying that Naftali’s “relations were not good” with some of the workers.

He rebutted Naftali’s claims that Sara Netanyahu abused him and discriminated against him on a racial basis, noting “I did not witness any racism or racist statements.... Naftali never claimed that he wanted to end his job over this.”

The NIS 170,000 was primarily made up of NIS 80,000 for Naftali’s emotional suffering for poor treatment as an employee and NIS 75,000 compensation for his being misled that he had a strong chance of remaining house manager for a substantial period. Instead, Naftali could not have been more than a temporary house manager, as he lacked the sufficient minimum academic degrees to even apply for the job once it was published as a public tender and could never have been more than a temporary acting house manager.

The remaining NIS 15,000 was reimbursement of Naftali’s legal fees and court costs.

Though overall, the decision was a clear win for Naftali, he originally had sued for around NIS 650,000, so other aspects of his claims were not accepted by the court.

Following Naftali’s win, other former employees reportedly may sue the Netanyahus.

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