Sara Netanyahu at the Jerusalem Labor Court, May 10, 2015.
(photo credit: AVIRAM ZINO)
In one of the more dramatic court moments in years, Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, began testifying late Sunday against Meni Naftali in a civil case alleging poor treatment and lack of payment for overtime work as manager of the prime ministerial household.
Netanyahu wasted no time unleashing a powerful counterattack in the Jerusalem Labor Court, saying her son Avner had told her that Naftali hit his friends when they visited.
As the court digested this counter-accusation, Netanyahu also slammed the media “for spilling her blood in public,” numerous times hinting at Yediot Aharonot
owner Arnon (Noni) Mozes, though carefully avoiding his name.
Under questioning by Naftali’s lawyer, Naomi Landau, Netanyahu started off with a rebuke of Naftali and the media, saying nasty rumors had been spread about her for more than a year.
“Most of the things I see in the media are incorrect,” she stated. Later she said: “It’s hard to be Sara Netanyahu with what they do to us, spilling blood.”
Netanyahu forcefully denied spitting at one of her attendants, saying: “I’m a third-generation Holocaust survivor. There is no way that from my family, what I learned from my father, I would ever spit at someone. It would never happen. It’s not in my DNA.”
For most of her testimony, the prime minister’s wife was extremely composed, articulate and in command of facts. If she was a bit thrown, it was when Landau invoked statements made about her conduct by then-attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein regarding a case brought against her during her husband’s first term in office, in the 1990s, and when her testimony was contradicted by that of defense witnesses.
Landau said Rubinstein had characterized Netanyahu as acting poorly, and then submitted the former attorney-general’s full written opinion to the court, with Netanyahu complaining that she wanted to respond. Landau told her that because it was a submitted document, only her lawyers could respond.
At a later point in the court session, Landau told her it was strange that she not only denied Naftali’s allegations, but called him a “poor employee.” Ezra Saidoff, deputy director of the Prime Minister’s Office and firmly on Netanyahu’s side in the case, had denied Naftali’s allegations but nevertheless said he had been “a good employee.”
Netanyahu expressed genuine surprise that Saidoff praised Naftali as an employee and said she “did not agree.”
In March, Naftali testified against Netanyahu, saying she often drank excessive amounts of alcohol and was abusive toward him and other employees.
During his own testimony, Naftali claimed that various Prime Minister’s Office officials had broken promises that they would make his position as house manager permanent – an upgrade from his status as temporary manager from February 2011 to November 2012. He also complained that there had been a campaign of incitement and intimidation against him, including a break-in at his home.
Earlier Sunday, Landau questioned Saidoff, who has been in the headlines since Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein’s February 26 decision to order a criminal investigation, separate from Naftali’s civil claim, into allegations surrounding the Prime Minister’s Residence.
While Weinstein has exempted the prime minister from criminal suspicions at this stage, the State Comptroller’s Report issued last week appears to suggest that the focus of the probe, boosted by new testimony from Naftali, could be Saidoff, with Netanyahu possibly in the cross-hairs, too.
The dangers for Saidoff from a criminal investigation were apparent when he refused to answer several questions in Naftali’s civil case so as to avoid possible self-incrimination later on in a criminal case.
Saidoff also was ambushed with quotes he had made against Netanyahu from the 1990s case. He attempted to brush them off as being from the past, just as Netanyahu herself did by saying: “Who remembers?” In an affidavit filed in March, Saidoff went on the attack, saying Naftali’s “relations were not good” with some of the workers. He rebutted Naftali’s claims that Sara Netanyahu had been abusive 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. Even on Naftali’s last day at work, he came back and said that if he received funding to continue in his position, he would remain as house manager.”
Saidoff rejected Naftali’s claims that the deputy director of the Prime Minister’s Office had promised he could become a full government employee after starting in the position of house manager on a temporary basis. It was always clear with Naftali, he said, that the position of house manager required a competitive, open hiring process – a regulation changed only in October 2013.