Eshel resigns, PM names new chief of staff

Plea bargain reached wherein Eshel will admit to "misconduct," agree not to return to the public service.

Nathan Eshel 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Nathan Eshel 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday named Gil Sheffer as his temporary chief of staff, replacing Natan Eshel who will leave his post at the end of month after signing a plea bargain admitting misconduct toward a young female staffer.
Sheffer is currently in charge of the prime minister’s schedule and, like Eshel, is considered close to the Netanyahu family.
Netanyahu issued a statement thanking Eshel for his “dedicated and good” service, and his “important contribution” to the government. He said he appointed Sheffer to ensure “continuity” inside the Prime Minister’s Office.
The appointment of Sheffer came just hours after the Civil Service Commission concluded its investigation into allegations that Eshel harassed a female staffer, known only as R., and invaded her privacy. During the investigation, which began last month, the commission questioned 28 witnesses.
Eshel was questioned under caution.
A Justice Ministry spokesman said that the investigation found evidence of misconduct by Eshel and that the attorney-general and the Civil Service Commission had agreed to approve the terms of a plea bargain with Eshel’s attorney, Jacob Weinroth.
Under the terms of the plea bargain, Eshel will resign from his post on March 1, and will agree not to return to the civil service.
Eshel admitted offenses of breaching civil service discipline and of conduct unbecoming to a civil service employee. He agreed to accept a punishment consisting of a severe reprimand for his conduct.
“The plea bargain reflects Mr. Eshel’s acceptance of his responsibility, and has resulted in an appropriate outcome – the termination of Mr. Eshel’s employment in the civil service,” the Justice Ministry spokesman said.
The Justice Ministry also said the agreement “respected R.’s wishes not to be involved in legal proceedings,” noting that R. still refused to cooperate with the investigation, although investigators and others had tried to persuade her to testify.
R. is continuing to work inside the Prime Minister’s Office.
In a letter to Weinstein last month, R.’s attorney, Harel Arnon, had asked that his client not be compelled to testify and said that R. wanted to remain anonymous.
“Our client’s right, the right of everybody, is to decide autonomously if she feels harmed by someone’s behavior and if she wants to share those feelings with others,” Harel told Weinstein.
According to the complaint filed to the Civil Service Disciplinary Tribunal, which Eshel will admit to, he formed a close relationship with R. that was both inappropriate and unacceptable because of his superior civil service rank.
This included intruding on R.’s privacy by logging onto her computer without her permission, and by giving personal and private information about R. to various people in the Prime Minister’s Office without any professional reason for him to do so. Eshel also intruded on R.’s privacy, using photographs of her taken at social events.
The Justice Ministry spokesman said that the Civil Service Commission transferred the investigation’s findings and an opinion from the head of the Civil Service’s disciplinary branch to the attorney-general, Yehuda Weinstein.
“Mr. Eshel’s removal from the civil service and his punishment are a message to all state employees, including senior officials, which is that actions such as those uncovered during this investigation are not to be ignored,” the Justice Ministry said.
The ministry also said that those who first brought the suspicions against Eshel to the attorney- general’s attention had acted correctly.
The allegations were brought to the attention of the attorney-general by cabinet secretary Tzvi Hauser, communications director Yoaz Hendel and military attaché Maj.-Gen. Yohanan Locker.
“The attorney-general wishes to reemphasize that in a situation where a senior and powerful employee is disturbing a subordinate who is too afraid to complain, then civil service integrity requires that civil servants bring the information to the appropriate authorities,” the Justice Ministry said.
Eshel released a statement through his lawyers – Weinroth, Rachel Toren and Yael Dolev – saying that for a month he has been at the center of a storm that has turned his life, and the life of his family, into a nightmare.
He said the agreement presented him by his lawyers removed suspicion that he committed indecent acts or sexual harassment.
“It is now clear to everyone that there was not a sexual aspect to this affair,” he said.
Eshel added that – after consulting with his lawyers, he decided to admit to “light disciplinary infractions,” quit his position, and “continue with my life” because the sexual harassment “cloud” was removed, and because of his health, age (he was born in 1947) and the fact that a heavy financial burden that would be placed on him to completely clear his name.
R.’s attorneys, Arnon and Yitzhak Bam, said that R. did not want to respond to the outcome of the investigation.
“R. wants to return to her normal routine and to retain her privacy,” the lawyers said, asking that the media respect her wishes.
The lawyers added that there would be no further response from R. “Any other information from alleged ‘sources close to R.’ are baseless,” they said.