The headlines are about a couple of issues roiling close to the Prime Minister. They do not concern the big stuff that will attract people around the world who look to Israel for the excitement of threat, promise, personal or collective salvation. Insofar as the Prime Minister is the Prime Minister, however, the little stuff can become big.
One item concerns the administrative head of the Prime Minister''s Office. The Office is a sprawling place that includes not only a few close advisers, but various units "housed" in the Prime Minister''s Office employing several thousand people. The administrative head is a close confident of the prime minister, and more interestingly of Mrs Prime Minister. Few readers of these notes will recognize Natan Eshel. Until a week ago, that may also have been true of most Israelis. The man avoids headlines and the interviews, but became a media focus due to allegations that he harassed a woman employee of the Prime Minister''s Office.
The development of the story is no less interesting than the story itself. It came about not due to the woman''s complaint. Until now, she has refused to make a complaint. But she talked to co-workers, they talked to other co-workers, and then three of the Prime Minister''s senior advisers raised the issue with the Civil Service Commission, the Attorney General, and the Prime Minister himself. Details are not clear, whether Eshel busied himself too much with the monitoring the woman''s activities, including her e-mails, perhaps out of an excessive concern for her fitting in (personally and/or policy-wise), or whether he crossed a line into the realm of sexual harassment.
Involved in the media''s fascination is not only the propriety of Eshel''s activity vis a vis an as yet unnamed woman (identified in the media as "R," presumably one of her initials). No less important is Eshel''s role as a link between the Prime Minister''s Office and Sara Netanyahu, widely viewed as a person behind the throne, or perhaps in front of the throne on issues that interest her. Eshel is said to talk with Sara daily, relaying reports from the Prime Minister''s Office and elsewhere in the government to her, and her responses back to key players in government. It is widely reported that an individual cannot survive in a serious position without passing muster with Mrs. Prime Minister. This pertains not only to key appointees in the Prime Minister''s Office, but may also apply to appointees elsewhere and even the status with the Prime Minister of senior ministers. Sara also has been known for screaming at the household help, and as the subject of legal actions by family employees who claim to have suffered from violations of the labor laws.
Whenever there is a reason to feature Sara in the media, it is highly likely that she will also appear in the political cartoons. Ha''aretz''s latest shows Bibi asking her if she has a candidate for appointment to be commander of the Air Force.
A second issue prominent in the media is an impending report of the State Comptroller (GAO equivalent) dealing with a disasterous forest fire on the Carmel in December, 2010 south and east of Haifa. The drama of the fire was the death of more than 40 individuals, most of whom were prison guards trapped in a bus by a sudden spread of the fire across a narrow moutain road. The deaths were important in provoking the State Comptroller''s inquiry which has gone on for more than a year, and will apparently focus not only on the errors in allowing the bus to continue along a dangerous route, but on the more basic issue of governmental failures in upgrading the fire service over an extended period of time. Indications are that two senior ministers, both close to the Prime Minister in holding the coalition together, may be held especially responsible for the failures. The State Comptroller has no authority to dismiss the Minister of Interior, with ultimate responsibility for the fire service, or the Finance Minister, said to have held up financing improvements demanded by earlier inquiries into the fire service. However, the standing of the State Comptroller, and the severity of his report, may produce enough pressure on the Prime Minister to force their dismissals, resignations, or re-assignments.
Neither the shanigans of the man heading administration of the Prime Minister''s Office nor the State Comptroller''s blasts against the Ministers of Interior and Finance are likely to cause the downfalls of Benyamin or Sara Netanyahu. Bibi''s coalition retains the support of parties that control 66 seats in the 120-member Knesset. None of those parties appears to be anxious to take its chances in an early election. No election need be called prior to the Fall of 2014. However, several parties are already jockeying. Both the ruling Likud and the leading opposition party, Kadima, have scheduled primaries in order to select and rank the lists of candidates to be considered by the voters. The primaries are managed by parties, and open only to those who pay dues. Not all parties have primaries. Some select candidates by inner party councils dominated by one or a few party leaders. The ultra-Orthodox parties accept management by senior rabbis, adised by the politicians currently in their favor.
The stuff that interests most outsiders, namely the going nowhere peace process with the Palestinians, and the efforts of Israel to do what it can to keep Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons, are likely to be independent of who is sitting in the Prime Minister''s chair. While recent polls suggest that there is no individual or party capable of unseating Benyamin Netanyahu in the near future, these things continue to evolve. Headlines about the management of the Prime Minister''s Office, and the failures of the fire service will, at the least, feed the campaigns of those seeking more Kneset seats for their parties, or even aspiring to the Prime Minister''s Office.