One day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's former bureau chief Natan Eshel denied he would be part of the coalition negotiation team, Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich publicized an email from Eshel in which he says he was asked to head the team.
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Eshel left his post in the Prime Minister's Office in disgrace in March amid accusations of sexual harassment. After admitting to misconduct, he was severely reprimanded by the Civil Service Commission and prohibited from returning to government service.
On Sunday, in the wake of a Facebook protest urging political parties "not to negotiate with sex offenders," Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party announced it would not hold coalition talks with Eshel, a close confidant of Netanyahu. In response, Likud sources and Eshel himself denied that he had been tapped to lead the coalition talks.
But yesterday Yacimovich posted on her Facebook page an email written by Eshel two months ago to the legal adviser of the Prime Minister's Office, which states that he was asked to head the coalition talks.
"The prime minister and Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman want me to head their negotiation team for setting up the next coalition," Eshel wrote in the email to PMO legal adviser Shlomit Barnea Farago. "Does my commitment not to work in the government's service (not including public or political capacity) create a problem or is it alright?"
Yacimovich explained on her Facebook page that the email was apparently sent to her by mistake.
"How did I get Eshel's email? Very simple. My name and [Shlomit] Barnea Farago's both start with 'Sh,' so he accidentally sent his email to both of us," Yacimovich wrote.
Yacimovich wrote that Eshel had obtained her personal email address during the election campaign "in order to send me several vituperative messages, after I demanded he stop running state affairs and keep the deal with the Civil Service Commissioner, and after I asked to protect the whistleblowers [who exposed Eshel's alleged sexual harassment] from Netanyahu's vengeance."
Meanwhile, the woman who initiated the Facebook protest urging political parties not to meet with Eshel says that he called and threatened to sue her.
"Eshel telephoned me, saying that he hadn't sexually harassed anyone and asking me to apologize by eleven o'clock," said feminist activist Revital Madar. "He threatened that if I didn't apologize, he'd bring a libel suit against me."
Madar said a similar conversation was held between Eshel and MK-elect Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), who contacted the attorney general to ask him to enforce the plea bargain that Eshel signed and instruct the prime minister not to appoint Eshel to any public position.
Eshel told Haaretz he had indeed spoken with Madar and Zandberg and told both that the charges against him were false. He said he had asked them to apologize for their statements, adding that if they did not, he would consider suing them for libel.
Both women said they had no intention of retracting their comments.
More than 4,000 people have joined the Facebook protest page launched by Madar, called: "If Natan Eshel is in the Prime Minister's Office, women will reject the government."
The page calls on every political party slated to enter negotiations with the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu over forming the next government to set a condition for the talks that Eshel have nothing to do with them, because "one doesn't negotiate with sex offenders."
An online petition has also been launched.
Yesh Atid which has eight women in its 19-member faction was the first party to announce that it would accede to the demand.
Madar says she realizes that Eshel is not a "sex offender" according to the plea bargain he signed. In that agreement, he admitted to maintaining an overly close relationship with R., a female employee in the Prime Minister's Office who was his subordinate, in a way that was inappropriate and unacceptable between a boss and a subordinate in the civil service.
He also admitted that this inappropriate relationship included harming R. and impinging on her privacy by entering her computer without her permission and photographing her in an unacceptable way at various events.
Meretz's Zandberg responded to the call from Eshel with a post on her Facebook page: "Yesterday he threatened me with a libel suit and today he threatened the courageous Revital Madar. ... We want a simple thing: Relieve of us of Natan Eshel's presence in public life, as was stipulated in the plea bargain."
Madar says that emboldened by the effectiveness of the protest against Eshel, she has embarked on an additional battle to prevent Tzipi Livni's confidant Haim Ramon from conducting the coalition negotiations for Hatnuah. Ramon, a former justice minister, was found guilty of indecent conduct for forcibly kissing a soldier.
"In the past few days it has become known in various places that it is Ramon who is conducting the coalition negotiations on behalf of Hatnuah. ... The details here aren't as clear yet; what is unambiguously clear, though, is that ... Tzipi Livni has also koshered sex offenders and does not think they should be distanced from society in general and from public life in particular," wrote Madar.
She noted that Hatnuah did not rule out negotiating with Eshel and quoted the party's response to a query by Haaretz: "If negotiations take place, we do not choose the representatives of the other side," said Hatnuah party officials.
On Sunday, Likud party officials said that it would be Netanyahu's attorneys David Shimron and Isaac Molcho who would be conducting the talks.