AG to Decide Whether to Probe Netanyahu Aide Over Alleged Sexual Harassment

Sources told Haaretz last week that Natan Eshel sexually harassed an official in the Prime Minister's Office; sources close to Eshel said it was 'cheap gossip.'

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is expected to decide on Sunday whether to continue the Civil Service Commission investigation into allegations that the prime minister's chief of staff harassed a female employee, or turn the case over to the police.

Sources told Haaretz and other media outlets last week that Natan Eshel sexually harassed an official in the Prime Minister's Office who is identified in the media only by the initial R. Sources close to Eshel said it was "cheap gossip."

Natan Eshel - Nir Keidar - 29012012
Nir Keidar

Over the weekend, Weinstein received the interim report from the preliminary Civil Service Commission investigation he ordered just a few days days ago; the document contains evidence that Eshel may have committed sexual offenses against R.

In addition to determining whether the allegations warrant a criminal rather than a disciplinary investigation, the attorney general is expected to decide whether to suspend Eshel until the review is completed.

Although Civil Service Commission legislation does not require suspension at this stage of an investigation, Weinstein could ask Eshel to suspend himself until the situation becomes clearer. This would be done in light of the case's public implications and the strain the allegations put on the workplace atmosphere.

State Prosecutor Moshe Lador and two officials who have been on the case since it surfaced - Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and Deputy Attorney General Raz Nazari of the Criminal Division - are expected to be in on Sunday's session with Weinstein.

Judicial sources said Saturday that if the evidence suggests that criminal offenses may have been committed, there will be no choice but to turn the investigation over to the police.

The allegations are thought to focus on Eshel's alleged behavior with R. during a business trip to the United States about two months ago. A source familiar with the situation says R. apparently told National Information Directorate head Yoaz Hendel during the trip that Eshel had harassed and followed her.

Sources told Haaretz last week that three senior members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's staff - Hendel, Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser and Military Secretary Yohanan Locker - told Weinstein about Eshel's alleged improprieties.

Labor Party chairwoman and MK Shelly Yachimovich called on Netanyahu Saturday to announce his support for the officials in his office who approached Weinstein in connection to the affair.

"It is scandalous that the impression has been created that the three will pay a price for having acted in such a principled manner, and in accordance with the law," Yachimovich said.

"It must be emphasized that, regardless of the outcome of the investigation [into Eshel], if [Netanyahu] harms any of these individuals, the prime minister would be sending intolerable messages to the public. One, that alleged criminal offenses should not be reported to the authorities, and two, that the bodies of teenage girls and women are public property and that no one will help them if anything bad happens to them."

R. has hired Jerusalem attorney Arnon Harel. She is expected to give a statement to the Civil Service Commission this week, although she repeatedly said last week she did not intend to file a complaint against Eshel. The commission is also expected to take statements from other figures in the affair.