Judge Rejects Sara Netanyahu’s Recuse Request as 'Utterly Baseless'

In the suit, which doesn't involve Netanyahu directly, a former worker is seeking compensation for alleged wrongful dismissal and abusive treatment at the Prime Minister’s Office.

Emil Salman

A judge rejected Sunday Sara Netanyahu’s request that the judge recuse herself from hearing a suit against the Prime Minister’s Residence filed by a former maintenance man. The judge also ordered the prime minister’s wife to pay court costs, saying her request was “unprecedented and utterly groundless.”

Sara Netanyahu sought to disqualify Jerusalem Labor Court Judge Dita Pruginin even though Mrs. Netanyahu wasn’t a defendant in the suit filed by Guy Eliyahu. She based her request on the fact that Pruginin had previously ruled in favor of Meni Naftali, a former caretaker of the Prime Minister’s Residence, in his suit against the government.

But both the state and Eliyahu objected to the request, with the latter’s attorneys terming it an attempt to intimidate the court, and Pruginin rejected it, imposing court costs on the prime minister’s wife.

Eliyahu filed suit in April 2014, seeking 500,000 shekels ($132,000) in compensation for alleged wrongful dismissal and abusive treatment when he worked at the Prime Minister’s Office. Eliyahu contended that working conditions at the Prime Minister’s Residence were intolerable. Workers were routinely shouted at, insulted and humiliated, the suit said, and sometimes there were even more serious incidents, “like dishes that weren’t put in the right place being thrown to the floor before the workers’ astonished eyes.”

The defendants in the suit are the Prime Minister’s Residence; Ezra Saidoff, the deputy director general for material and operational resources at the Prime Minister’s Office; and the maintenance firm through which Eliyahu was employed. The court finished hearing evidence in the case in October, and the sides are now awaiting a ruling.

Meanwhile, in February, Pruginin ruled in a separate case that the state should pay Naftali 170,000 shekels in compensation due to the harmful employment conditions he suffered at the Prime Minister’s Residence. That prompted Sara Netanyahu to seek Pruginin’s recusal in Eliyahu’s case.

The request, submitted two weeks ago, argued that in the Naftali ruling, “the court determined that the Prime Minister’s Residence is managed in a way that constitutes harmful employment of its workers – including Eliyahu.” This proves that Pruginin’s mind is already made up, since she would be unable to contradict her own previously expressed view, the request said. Therefore, “the court’s role in the Eliyahu case is limited, at most, to giving a rubber stamp to the same conclusions reached in the [Naftali] verdict.”

Pruginin deemed the request completely baseless. But even if it hadn’t been, she wrote, there were also procedural grounds for rejecting it, since it was submitted far too late – after all the evidence in the case had already been heard. Sara Netanyahu knew quite well that the evidentiary basis of the two lawsuits was similar, Pruginin said, “yet despite this, she submitted her request only after a ruling was handed down [in Naftali’s case] that she didn’t agree with.”

Moreover, Pruginin added, though she herself heads both judicial benches, the other two members of the bench are different in this suit than they were in Naftali’s case.