If any senior government official is suspected of harassing a female employee, the facts and their legal significance need to be thoroughly investigated. This is especially true when the official in question is the prime minister's bureau chief. And if this weren't enough on its own, the suspicions were reported by three officials who are no less senior.
The case involving Natan Eshel, who is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau chief, admittedly doesn't appear at first glance to be a huge scandal - a kind of "Eshel-gate." But it must be investigated professionally, without the shadow of a suspicion that the Netanyahu bureau or any of its staff are enjoying extra privileges. Investigations, like justice, must not only be done, but seen to be done.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein did well to praise those who gave information about Eshel. This message ought to reverberate in every public institution and, indeed, in every workplace. But the same can't be said of Weinstein's decision to assign the investigation to the Civil Service Commission. This, too, sends a message - and a problematic one.
In recent years, a custom has arisen of making preliminary inquiries before launching a full-fledged criminal investigation. The reason for this is that it is harder to close a case than to open one. The moment the police begin a criminal investigation, anyone defined as a suspect in the case inevitably suffers damage. Not every tip received by every law enforcement agency proves to be well-grounded, and not every lead ends in discovery of a crime.
Caution is thus preferable to haste, but on two conditions - that it is applied indiscriminately, rather than being to the benefit of senior officials but the detriment of junior ones; and that it does not have an effect on evidence, victims and witnesses.
Investigations by the Civil Service Commission usually lead to disciplinary proceedings, not criminal ones. In some cases, that is the right choice. But the Eshel case, even if it ends in a whimper, is not one of them.
In 2007, the Civil Service Commission was transferred from the Finance Ministry to the Prime Minister's Office. It has also been responsible for some eyebrow-raising lapses denounced by the state comptroller just this past October, in his report on the ballooning number of "positions of trust" - jobs exempt from standard civil service requirements - in the Prime Minister's Office. But in any case, the commission cannot investigate its parent ministry. Weinstein must therefore transfer the inquiry to the police, or else to a special, impartial task force.
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