Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Israel's prime minister, testified Thursday in a civil suit filed against the Prime Minister’s Office by a former maintenance worker in the couple's official Jerusalem residence. Netanyahu defended herself, saying she has become the “punching bag” of Israeli media, and said PMO employees told her that the plaintiffs in this and a second, similar suit had been offered pay to testify against her.
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The wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was testifying in Jerusalem District Labor Court in a lawsuit by Guy Eliyahu. The suit names the PMO as well as Ezra Seidoff, a deputy director general in the office who was recently suspended, for what Eliyahu called the harmful and illegal terms of his employment. Seidoff, who was suspended in connection to a criminal investigation into spending at the Netanyahus’ residence, also testified Thursday.
Sara Netanyahu told the court that according to employees in the PMO, Eliyahu and Meni Naftali, a former chief caretaker at the official residence who is conducting his own suit against the PMO, offered to pay them to testify against her.
Netanyahu implied that Arnon “Noni” Mozes, the publisher of Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth daily, was helping Naftali with his lawyer’s fees, but declined to say so directly.
When asked about employees who had left the Prime Minister’s residence over the years, Netanyahu said that at least two women quit because of sexual harassment from Naftali, while most of the other employees left due to illness. She called Eliyahu a “compulsive gambler, adding, “the person who is trying to bring down my husband is behind [Eliyahu].”
When Eliyahu’s lawyer asked why the fire was being directed at her if her husband was the real target, Netanyahu said it was because she was an easy target.
“I’ve become a punching bag for everyone in the media. ... No one would want to trade places with me. It’s no fun being Sara Netanyahu.” She later said that some former employees of the residence were vengeful.
Eliyahu claims he was forced to work long hours and on the Sabbath, in violation of the law. Seidoff, in response, said Naftali was in charge of the work schedules. Seidoff was also asked about the memorial candles purchased for thousands of shekels, and whether he was aware of “the order that employees would not leave the residence and would light candles in every room in the house for the entire year” after the death of Sara Netanyahu’s father. Seidoff affirmed that he had signed for the candles and said the purchase had been approved by PMO accountants.
Seidoff claimed that Etti Haim, a cook at the residence, had in fact been hired as a cleaner. This was a reference to a State Comptroller’s report that criticized the frequent ordering of food from outside despite the presence of an onsite cook.
Haim testified to strained relations with Netanyahu, including a reprimand that caused her to faint.
Eliyahu’s chief complaint in his suit concerns the behavior of Sara Netanyahu.
“The work environment in the Prime Minister’s residence created intolerable and insulting employment conditions. Military-style cleaning inspections accompanied by shouts, curses and insults were routine and frightened all the employees. Petty incidents often turned into harsh outbursts of anger that sometimes included throwing things,” Eliyahu’s lawsuit states.
Food and how it is served is a recurring theme in the suit.
“The plaintiff had to guarantee [the Netanyahus] ate sterile food, untouched by human hands,” states the suit.
Eliyahu testified in September that on one occasion Sara Netanyahu summoned him from his home after midnight to reheat a bowl of soup for her.
In her affidavit for the suit, Netanyahu wrote that “Eliyahu’s claims of ‘humiliation’ and ‘eruptions of anger’ on my part are empty and groundless claims designed to slander me.”