Netanyahu Says PMO Will Await the Results of Examination Into Eshel Affair

PM responds for the first to allegations that the head of his office had harassed a female coworker.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded for the first time on Thursday to a complaint issued against the head of his office, Natan Eshel, who allegedly harassed a female coworker.

Three senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office, Yoaz Hendel, who is head of the national information directorate, cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser and military secretary Yohanan Locker, were involved in providing information to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein over allegations that came to light this week that Eshel had been harassing R., who also works in Netanyahu's office.

Netanyahu Jan. 22, 2012 (Moshe Milner / GPO)
Moshe Milner / GPO

During a staff meeting on Thursday, which was attended by the three officials as well as Eshel, Netanyahu said that they must await the results of the examination into the affair.

"There is an examination and we will patiently await its results," Netanyahu said. "We have much greater challenges and we will continue working on them as usual."

Officials in Netanyahu's office who were present at the meeting said that Eshel, Hauser, and Hendel spoke between them with no apparent disconnect.

Haaretz reported on Wednesday that R., the alleged victim of Eshel's harassment, told Hendel during a joint trip to the United States that Eshel has been harassing her by going through text messages on her cellular phone, reading her private emails, and even following her outside of the workplace.

On his return to Israel, Hendel recounted what he had been told to cabinet secretary Hauser and the two conducted several consultations on the issue. Some of these consultations also included Locker, the prime minister's military secretary, according to another source.

Senior officials in the office had decided not to brief Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the matter in order to distance him from the affair and instead decided to approach Attorney General Weinstein.

Because the information was incomplete, and because R. herself has not expressed an interest in filing a complaint, Weinstein ordered a preliminary investigation to be carried out by the Civil Service Commission. It is being lead by the head of the commission's investigation division, Nati Levitt.

At this point, investigators have questioned several employees of the Prime Minister's Office but Eshel and R. were not among them. Although investigators have not obtained evidence proving the allegations against Eshel, the investigation is continuing. The decision by senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office not to inform Netanyahu was said to be a result of a desire to distance him from the matter and to avoid involving him in suspicions or allegations that he might be obstructing the investigation.