PM aide takes leave over harassment allegations
During the investigation of the allegations against Natan Eshel, R., the alleged victim, will be summoned to give testimony, even though she has so far refused to file a complaint.
Natan Eshel, the Prime Minister's Bureau chief suspected of sexually harassing a female coworker, has taken a 10-day leave to permit an in-depth investigation of the allegations against him by the Civil Service Commission.
During this investigation, R., the alleged victim, will be summoned to give testimony, even though she has so far refused to file a complaint.
"As a government employee, she is obligated to appear before civil service investigators," Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein told R.'s attorneys. "This appearance does not violate her privacy, her dignity or her basic rights."
Eshel was ordered to take time off by Assaf Rosenberg, head of the Civil Service Commission's disciplinary department, who warned him that if he didn't take leave voluntarily, he might face a suspension.
Weinstein yesterday decided not to order a criminal investigation into the case just yet. Following additional information received from another bureau figure, whose testimony was called "significant," Weinstein ordered the Civil Service Commission to conduct a disciplinary investigation into the incident. Until now the probe had been defined as an "examination."
R.'s lawyers said yesterday that she might petition the High Court of Justice if she is summoned to testify to the commission.
Legal sources said yesterday that if enough evidence is collected on which to base a complaint against Eshel to the Civil Service Commission's disciplinary court, there may be no need for R. to testify. But without R.'s freely given testimony about what Eshel allegedly did to her, the evidence collected would have to be very weighty.
The atmosphere in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau yesterday was very tense. It was particularly tense during the cabinet meeting, which Eshel did not attend. None of the ministers raised the allegations at the meeting, nor were there any of the usual jokes and barbs the ministers often exchange about issues on the cabinet agenda.
Eshel only came to the office in the afternoon, after meeting with his attorney, Jacob Weinroth. Later he met with Netanyahu and informed him he was taking 10 days' vacation.
Eshel reportedly told confidants that he wants to testify to the commission as soon as possible, and would like R. to testify as well, "since that's how things will be cleared up and they'll see I didn't do anything improper," a friend of Eshel's said.
The Justice Ministry said yesterday the main reason the investigation hasn't been transferred to the police is that these kinds of allegations are routinely checked by the Civil Service Commission, not the police, and there was no reason to deviate from accepted procedure.
Numerous academics and intellectuals yesterday wrote to Netanyahu and to Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, arguing that Weinstein's handling of the case seems to put government officials above the law.