Sara Netanyahu is expected to deny claims regarding her drinking habits when asking the National Labor Court on Tuesday to allow her to appeal a decision in a case involving the chief caretaker of the Prime Minister's Residence.
In her request for an appeal of a Jerusalem District Court decision in March 2016, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will argue that her body weight, professional activities and public status belie the testimony of the caretaker, Meni Naftali, who among other things related to his mistreatment at the residence, claimed that he'd been shocked by her consumption of alcohol.
The motion for an appeal – in the form of a document that, with its appendices, comes to over 1,000 pages – is an attempt to overturn a ruling by Judge Dita Pruginin, stating that the Netanyahus had violated Naftali's rights as an employee, as well as those of co-worker Guy Eliyahu, and instructing the state to pay them compensation. Sara Netanyahu is also concerned that she may be instructed to pay the damages out of her own pocket.
Netanyahu seeks to overturn the ruling by the judge, who has since retired, so that she can submit new evidence and summon new witnesses – or, alternatively, to have the decision revoked. She is also seeking to make Naftali pay any legal expenses incurred by her appeal.
National Labor Court Judge Yigal Plitman will also consider appeals by other parties in the Naftali and Eliyahu cases. These include appeals by the employees, represented by attorneys Naomi Landau and Nava Pinchuk-Alexander, and by the state, which is contesting the legal basis of the earlier ruling, but not its factual aspects – even though it supports Sara Netanyahu’s appeal.
In addition to the civil court proceedings dealing with events at the premier's official residence, the Jerusalem District Prosecutor Nurit Litman, who specializes in criminal procedures, is considering whether to adopt a police recommendation to prosecute Sara Netanyahu and others for aggravated fraud in a different case. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said on Monday that the decision will be made “soon.”
In Netanyahu’s appeal, her attorney Yossi Cohen quotes Naftali, who testified in the Jerusalem District Court that he “hadn’t known the insane amount of alcohol she consumed. When I arrived I was shocked to see how much she drinks, such as three bottles of champagne a day.”
This statement, Cohen now contends, is “delusional [since] an average person, certainly not someone of Sara’s weight, is not capable of drinking three bottles of champagne a day, especially not someone who works as a professional psychologist in the public services system and as someone who carries numerous burdens as part of her official position.”
Cohen did not attach any supporting evidence for his claim or witnesses that would strengthen his argument in the event that the request for allowing an appeal to go through is granted.
Academic studies that can be perused by the public, such as on the website of the National Institutes of Health in Washington, counter the body-weight argument. Many researchers (such as French and Norton, Istvan, Murray and Voelker, Liangpunsakul and Crabb) have found that there is no correlation – or that there may even be a negative one – between the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption and body weight, particularly not in women 51 years of age or older (Sara Netanyahu is 58).
One study notes that there is a paradoxical link between the amount of alcohol consumed and body weight among heavy or chronic drinkers, stating, “They are actually characterized by weight loss." There are no known studies that correlate the volume of alcohol consumed and working as a psychologist in the public system.
In light of Sara Netanyahu’s arguments in her request for an appeal, family spokesman Nir Hefetz was asked about her weight, about the appropriate daily intake of champagne for an expert psychologist in public service of a certain weight, about whether the reason her weight was mentioned was because a body of that weight cannot contain the amount of alcohol mentioned by Naftali, and so on. These questions were considered but went unanswered.
Through her attorney, Sara Netanyahu also expressed her concerns over suffering “financial harm” if her appeal is rejected, since the state has paid Naftali and Eliyahu hundreds of thousands of shekels. She could then be asked by the state to reimburse those sums, since the court determined that she was directly responsible for creating abusive work conditions.
“She may also be exposed to further personal financial claims by other employees and will find it difficult to defend herself against such claims,” says Cohen.
The lawyer acknowledges that the district court accepted Naftali’s claim in its entirety when it ruled that the evidence presented “a dismal picture regarding conduct at the residence relating to employment conditions, the work environment employees were exposed to, the attitude they were subjected to and the lack of protection of their dignity and rights.”
The judge's determination that Netanyahu ruled the residence “vigorously and with a heavy hand” was problematic, says Cohen, and had “created a problematic atmosphere that prevents her, now and in the future, from addressing her employees in a routine manner, out of fear that she may be prosecuted again.”
Netanyahu admitted that she had interviewed employees for positions that she was permitted to vet personally, but claimed that she did not intervene very much in the daily routine at the Prime Minister's Residence, since she was “very busy, due to her work as a professional psychologist and due to her position as the prime minister’s wife, which requires attending public functions.”
Sara Netanyahu was not the respondent in the Naftali and Eliyahu cases and even refused to testify at them. The court obliged her to appear despite this, and in spite of the state’s attempts to ignore its rulings.
Netanyahu's lengthy request for an appeal mentions precedents in other cases where third parties who were not defendants were allowed an appeal after arguing that they had been affected by a court's verdict.
The document attacks the Jerusalem District Court for being swayed by media people present in the courtroom last year. These individuals were covering the trial to an unprecedented extent, calling for “shedding the blood” of the premier's wife, and describing the scene as “a sheep going to slaughter ... [meaning that] her name will be forever tarnished.” The district court is also accused of “seeking to confirm the grave charges made against her after her fate had already been sealed by the media, in an attempt to harm the prime minister.”
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