Netanyahu’s Ex-chief of Staff Sexually Abused Colleague in 'Sick and Disturbed' Manner, Testimony Alleges

Witnesses said Natan Eshel harassed, dominated and intimidated R.; he resigned from Prime Minister's Office in 2012

Natan Eshel in court in 2012 (illustrative).
Hagai Frid

An Israeli newspaper has published for the first time the shocking testimony of a female worker against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's former right-hand man Natan Eshel, in which she accused him of sexual harassment, domination, intimidation and abuse before his resignation in 2012.

The accusations were revealed by Ben Caspit in the Maariv daily on Thursday.

The case against Eshel broke in 2012 and ended with his resignation as part of a plea deal in which he admitted to improper behavior in the workplace. He says this was not in regard to the allegations of sexual harassment.

At the time, Eshel signed a commitment not to ever work in public service again.

The testimony reveals that Eshel allegedly followed R., an employee who worked for him in the Prime Minister’s Office, intimidated her, imposed his will on her and took photos that looked up her skirt. He followed her in a “sick and disturbed” manner, according to one of the witnesses.

Eshel (right), Netanyahu and Hauser in the Prime Minister's Office in 2011.
Amit Shaabi

Eshel allegedly followed R., searched her private emails, punished her when she refused to do what he wanted and snapped photos of her of a sexual nature.

One of the main witnesses in the case against Eshel was former Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser. He said he saw Eshel taking photographs from under the skirts of women working in his office.

The testimonies reported on Thursday come from the official Civil Service Commission investigation against Eshel in 2012. There was no criminal investigation into the matter.

After the affair made the headlines, three senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office who had exposed Eshel’s behavior left one after the other: Hauser; Netanyahu’s director of communications and public diplomacy, Yoaz Hendel; and Netanyahu’s military secretary, Maj. Gen. Yohanan Locker.

Zvi Hauser.
Ilya Melnikov

Hauser testified that on December 12, 2011, Hendel asked to consult with him on a sensitive matter. “He looked upset and told me that recently he had become friendly with R., who worked in the bureau.”

Hendel told Hauser that R. “opened up her heart to him, and confessed about a problematic relationship with Natan Eshel.” Her main feeling was that “he controlled her life,” stated Hauser.

Eshel also allegedly photographed her in embarrassing ways many times, positioning his iPhone under her skirt – and that these pictures later made their way to other people in the bureau, Hauser said Hendel told him.

According to Maariv, Hauser testified that he witnessed Eshel taking intimate photos of R.

“Eshel held his iPhone in his right hand in a strange way, his arm was stretched out toward the ground and he moved his hand and body as if he was trying to read what was written on the screen. I was shocked to see that it wasn't an attempt to read text, but that the camera application was on, and on the screen I definitely noticed thighs, and the lower part of the line where the legs met the skirt.

"After about five seconds Eshel noticed I had seen what he was doing and recoiled by jumping backward with his body and the hand that held the iPhone, and the discussion continued normally,” recalled Hauser.   

“I viewed this as an embarrassing and improper action, but I thought it was a momentary and random impulse. R. definitely did not see this act,” added Hauser in his testimony.

After learning of R.’s claims, the three officials decided to take action. At first, they spoke with the woman in charge of Locker’s office, who told them they were “blind.” She said R. and Eshel had a “sick and disturbed relationship, and everyone knew about it.”

They later spoke to then-Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who instructed them to pass on the information to him. Hauser said one of the employees in the PMO, Noa Pereg, told Mazuz that “she had had a number of talks with R. that included [R.] breaking out crying.” 

Pereg’s testimony was also reported in the media on Thursday. Pereg also said R. was afraid of Eshel, who allegedly followed her and “regularly checked her bag.”

Another alleged incident occurred on a flight to the United States when R. sat next to the security guards – and Eshel ordered the guards to move from their seats next to her. He gave her a sleeping pill and told her to go to sleep. “He was in full control of her actions,” said Pereg.

When Pereg asked R. about this, she was told that R. received “punishments from Eshel if she rebelled against him, and that he could find her and get her whenever he wanted.”

Hauser said Pereg told him of a different incident R. related to him. “Eshel summoned her to his office saying his computer had broken down, and at one point she leaned over toward the computer and felt something strange between her legs.” She immediately fled the room in panic.

“She was very tense and upset, and time after time expressed fear that they would take retribution against her,” Hauser said Pereg told him.

R. also frequently said she wanted to leave her job, but doubted she could because Eshel would not agree to her leaving and she was afraid of his power and what he was capable of doing.

R. gave a long list of examples of how Eshel could abuse her and take revenge, harming both her and her job. “She said Eshel needed to know everything that happened to her, in her private life too, and hinted at a personal relationship too.”

Hauser also testified that many people thought the relationship between Eshel and R. went “beyond that of a boss and subordinate.” Gil Sheffer, who worked in the PMO and replaced Eshel as chief of staff, “occasionally hinted at Eshel’s obsessive tendencies toward R., that he was devoted to her, in love with her and followed her every step.”    

Eshel responded to the story on Thursday by telling Maariv he was "shocked that testimonies we never received and are only found in the hands of the Civil Service Commission were leaked and given to [Maariv].

"In addition, as opposed to what you report, it should be remembered that I was tried at the time for a disciplinary offense that did not include a sexual aspect. The recycling of a disciplinary matter that happened six years ago is motivated by personal revenge of Ben Caspit,” said Eshel.