Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Thursday appealed the verdict in a civil suit against the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem. In February the Jerusalem Labor Court awarded 170,000 shekels ($44,000) to Meni Naftali, the former caretaker of the property.
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Since Netanyahu herself was not named in the suit, the likelihood of the judgment being overturned is considered low.
In her ruling, Judge Dita Pruginin accepted Naftali’s claims that the work environment in the Netanyahus’ residence had been abusive and deserving of compensation.
“The court heard many testimonies as to the toxic nature of the employment conditions, due to the behavior of Mrs. Netanyahu and her attitude to the employees,” Pruginin wrote in her summary of the verdict. “Those included exaggerated demands, insults, humiliation and outburst of anger. The employees were required to work long and exceptional hours.”
Netanyahu’s appeal, filed in the National Labor Court, claims that “the regional labor court erred in the way the process was conducted, whereby the appellant was not afforded an opportunity to defend herself and fully present her evidence, as well as in its harsh conclusions which were in contrast to the evidence presented.” In the past, the Supreme Court ruled that witnesses cannot appeal when their reputation is damaged in cases in which there are rulings involving them but in which they are not a side. This applies to all levels of the court system. Netanyahu’s attorneys claimed that she does have a right to appeal, since that ruling stated that “when the set of rights or status of a person changes in a case in which he is not one of the two disputing sides, he can still appeal the verdict.”
The attorneys state that Netanyahu was not “a party to the petition but was a witness instructed by the court to submit an affidavit. She could thus not provide witnesses, support or evidence that would substantiate her claims. Nevertheless, the court ruled that she had failed to provide such support for her testimony, even though the court itself had prevented this.”
Netanyahu also referred to criticism voiced by Pruginin over claims she made during her testimony in a suit filed by Guy Eliahu, a maintenance worker at the residence, who claimed that Naftali had sexually harassed another employee there. “The court determined that Netanyahu did not present a shred of evidence that supported this claim, even though Naftali himself said during his cross-examination that there was such a claim,” says the appeal. “It should be stressed that not only was a complaint lodged with the police against Naftali for sexual harassment and indecent acts, but it was said that another employee was also harassed.”
Netanyahu’s attorneys also raised issues regarding Naftali and his character, which the court had erroneously ignored. “There is evidence attesting to his violent and provocative nature, including the abuse of his status in order to obtain benefits, as well as his exhibiting violent behavior towards a resident of his hometown and attempts at extortion under threats. ... the court did not allow this to be investigated, nor did it allow the submission of evidence for his unreliability, whereas abundant evidence for this is available.”
Netanyahu also claims that the judge erred when she refused to give evidentiary weight to letters from other employees at the residence that supported her version of events, according to which there was no abuse. “The claim made in the sentence that the appellant should have brought the letter writers to testify is puzzling, since she was not a side to the petition but a witness compelled to testify by the court. She could not bring other witnesses. If the court believed they were important it should have summoned them just like they summoned the appellant.”
Regarding these letters, Pruginin rejected Netanyahu’s claim that they were written spontaneously: “some of these letters are unsigned and undated, with most of the writers no longer employed at the residence, for various reasons. The testimony of Mr. Zakai, who testified for the subjects of the petition, related to the circumstances of the writing of his letter. In it he complained about Naftali’s behavior and praised the Netanyahus. However, this letter does not support the spontaneous nature of these letters. Zakai said that he met Yossi Cohen, Sara Netanyahu’s attorney, for the purpose of writing the letter. He wrote it after talking to Cohen.”
Attorney Naomi Landau, who is representing Naftali, said in response to the filing of the appeal: “It’s amazing to see how Sara Netanyahu is continuing to tarnish Meni Naftali in any way possible, while continuing to bother Israeli citizens with this endless saga called ‘Sara Netanyahu.’ It would be more suitable if she dealt with the claims made against her and give the public an extensive accounting of her abusive behavior toward Naftali and other employees. Mrs. Netanyahu doesn’t understand that even if there was a shred of truth in what she says, which is totally denied, it gives her no right to bully her employees, to abuse them and treat them as if they were her private possession.” Landau also referred to Netanyahu’s right to appeal the process, saying that “despite her learned explanations, she has no right to appeal a process to which she was not a party.”