Former Staffer for Sara Netanyahu: ‘I Wasn’t Allowed to Drink, Eat or Use the Bathroom’

Shira Raban, who worked for a month at the prime minister's residence, filed a long list of accusations against the prime minister's wife, whose lawyers call ‘malicious lies’

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Sara Netanyahu in court in Jerusalem, October, 2018.
The prime minister's wife, Sara Netanyahu, in court in Jerusalem, October, 2018, in connection with fraud allegations against her in connection with spending at the Prime Minister's Residence. Credit: Amit Shabi/Pool

Shira Raban, a former employee at the prime minister’s official residence who has filed a lawsuit against Sara Netanyahu for abusive employment conditions, submitted an affidavit on Sunday describing the conditions she had to work under for a month until, in her words, she had to “flee for her life.”

The affidavit was submitted to the regional Labor Court in Jerusalem, ahead of the testimony stage of the lawsuit. Attorney Yossi Cohen, Netanyahu’s lawyer, said in response that “Raban and her desperate lawyers are continuing to tarnish Mrs. Netanyahu with recycled and malicious lies, in an attempt to dishonestly extort an astronomical amount of money, 250,000 shekels ($70,000), for employment that lasted only one month.” Raban worked at the residence during September 2017.

Photocopies of correspondence between Raban and her sister, and between Raban and Nili Kadosh, another employee at the residence, who worked with Raban in the residence’s sleeping quarters, were included in the affidavit.

Raban wrote her sister: “I left work earlier, have to return at 4. She made me miserable!!!”; “I felt like I wasn’t a human being, from eight-thirty in the morning I wanted to go to the bathroom or have something to eat”; “Great! food, drink, a bathroom – it’s not to be taken for granted – thank God”; and “ten hours without a break, only curses and swearing. A Nazi.”

In one SMS she wrote Kadosh: “I made the boys’ beds 80 times. Nothing pleases her, it’s simply crazy.” In another one she writes: “I’m wiped out, I quarreled with everyone there and went home sick, washed out. A hundred shekels an hour isn’t worth what you go through there with that crazy person.”

The affidavit further claims that Yair Netanyahu, the Netanyahus’ elder son, was cooperating with his mother, egging her on against employees, holding “cleanliness parades.”

Raban, who is represented by attorney Naomi Landau, is demanding 225,000 shekels from Netanyahu and the Prime Minister’s Office for abusive employment. Landau asked to summon Kadosh to testify after the latter did not respond to the lawyer’s calls. In the affidavit, Raban describes the pattern of work at the residence, saying that “the working conditions were despicable, inhuman, threatening and humiliating, something inconceivable and intolerable, continuing daily until I left.”

The affidavit says that “the abusive and inconceivable work environment I had included loud yelling, humiliation (“you’re a lump of nothing”, “you don’t belong in this family”, “If I’d known you were so useless I wouldn’t have taken you on” and more). It says Raban was also wrongly accused of things, as well as verbally and physically threatened, and that curses and insults were routine on the second floor at the residence. “This made me and Nili, who worked with me, afraid. Often, small incidents led to outbursts of fury that could have had serious consequences, as happened the day I fled,” Raban says in the affadavit.

Yair Netanyahu in Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, where he filed a defamation case against social activist Abie Binyamin, December 2018.Credit: Moti Milrod

She describes how Sara Netanyahu forbade her to take breaks. She says she was not allowed to eat throughout the day, so she and her colleague prepared small packages in advance so they could eat them furtively during work, without Mrs. Netanyahu noticing. “I was totally forbidden to take drinks up to the second floor or to drink water from the tap in a disposable cup. I’d pass entire days without drinking even one glass of water.”

She further described how, when asking for a break, Netanyahu told her: “I just visited Argentina, suffering for the state of Israel - with what impudence do you dare ask for a break?” Going to the bathroom was also forbidden. “Nili and I would hold it in for many hours, sometimes not going to the bathroom for the whole day. Some days there was an opportunity and we could run to the bathroom, with one of us looking out for the other – we’d run to the lower floor and back right away,” she wrote.

Raban repeated her claims about the furious outbursts, saying that she had to disinfect herself after leaning on a shoe dresser. She was told not to let her children touch anything she was bringing to the residence in case they were sick, and of the things she had to constantly do over, such as when someone would step on a carpet. For every cleaning job there was a different dress code, according to her affadavit.

Raban said that tension between her and the prime minister’s wife began when the latter demanded that she work more hours than her contract stipulated. It came to a boil on October 1, 2017, after she and Kadosh finished unpacking a suitcase. Netanyahu was angry, believing a pair of shoes was missing. “Mrs. Netanyahu scolded Nili and when she finished yelling, she turned to me, saying: Who are you, anyway? You don’t understand anything, there’s nothing inside your head,” she said.

“When she finished berating me, she asked me to swear to God that I had acted according to the regulations and that I hadn’t disobeyed her when she asked me to unpack the dozens of soaps and lotions from the suitcase,” she recalled. “Mrs. Netanyahu did not let up and in a high state of agitation she approached me, screaming madly, until she raised her hand to strike me. I was shocked and upset and burst out crying, while walking backwards, trying to avoid her hand. I called out: what do you want from me, I’m afraid of you, leave me be.” She later describes how she managed to escape, leaving the house without returning.

In the affidavit she relates to Netanyahu’s arguments in defense of her actions, in which Netanyahu claimed she had been at the residence only for a few days that month. “I worked in close proximity to Mrs. Netanyahu for 13 days that month, since she was away on the other days. But every one of the hours she was there was like an eternity,” she wrote. When asked why she didn’t leave earlier, she said that her husband had started studies at a religious seminary, and she “didn’t have the liberty to suddenly leave a place of employment, and a dazzling one such as the prime minister’s residence at that.”

Raban describes how she was recruited. She writes that as part of the interview, she met Yoav Horowitz, currently the director-general at the Prime Minister’s Office, who was chief of Netanyahu’s staff at the time. Raban writes that Horowitz asked her how she deals with stressful situations, especially when she’s yelled at. “I told him I was a good and devoted worker and that I didn’t think a situation would arise in which someone would yell at me,” she says in the affidavit. “At the time I didn’t imagine how wrong I was and what lay behind Horowitz’s questions.”

Netanyahu’s lawyer Yossi Cohen further said that Raban had been close to Sara Netanyahu for only a few hours during her employment. “The court’s president has already determined that the lawsuit includes irrelevant claims, is formulated in slanderous terms that are not to the point, terms meant only for the media. In time, we’ll show how, why and who fabricated these far-fetched claims. We’re sure that the truth will come to light and that justice will be served.”

The lawsuit also charges the PMO, Netanyahu’s adviser for ultra-Orthodox affairs Rivka Paluch, residence manager Efi Azoulay and Horowitz. The suit says Sara Netanyahu sought to employ ultra-Orthodox women to prevent leaks to the media, on the assumption that they would keep quiet.