At least three senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office were involved in providing information to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein over allegations that came to light this week that the head of the office, Natan Eshel, had harassed a female coworker.
According to knowledgeable officials, the three people who provided information to Weinstein are Yoaz Hendel, who is head of the national information directorate, along with cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser and apparently also military secretary Yohanan Locker. At this point, no evidentiary basis had been found for the allegations against Eshel.
About two months ago, Hendel and the alleged victim of Eshel's harassment, who has only been identified as R., went to the United States to attend a conference on pro-Israel public advocacy among American Christian communities.
R. organized the conference together with the Israeli embassy in Washington in her capacity as liaison in the Prime Minister's Office to Christian communities in North America.
A source with knowledge of the matter has said that R. had apparently informed
Hendel during the course of the trip to the U.S. that Eshel had harassed her and had been following her. 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.
The officials in Netanyahu's office also decided to obtain a legal opinion from a senior lawyer who in the past had held a major law enforcement position. The lawyer told Netanyahu's advisers the matter was too serious to be resolved within the office and suggested that they contact Attorney General Weinstein.
The case involving R. comes against the backdrop of tense relations among some members of Netanyahu's senior staff. The relationship between Eshel and cabinet secretary Hauser, for example, have been strained for more than two years, but it appears that Hendel, too, is not on the best of terms with Eshel.
On Tuesday, Eshel's associates bitterly criticized Hendel, calling him a gang leader.
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