For Israel’s Sarie Antoinette, Lots More Payback Is Possible

After a losing a case over employee rights, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife is liable to be convicted of perjury and assault.

Emil Salman

The prime minister’s official residence is the only place in the world where staff are asked to sign recommendation letters for their employers, praise the lady of the house and recount how pleased they’ve been to work for her. This reverse of accepted practice is only otherwise possible in a Grimms’ fairy tale.

There’s no major corruption in the Netanyahu household, or at least none that has been uncovered. Just minor corruption. Corruption lite. Penny by penny, thousand by thousand: bottle-deposit proceeds, the use of funds for personal consumption, and again and again, at the public’s expense, the rule “Sara does it and the state covers it.”

It’s Sarie Antoinette and King Bibi XVI. And since everyone knows about it, even though admissible evidence is required, supreme efforts have been made to hush things up. It’s like a pilot in a tailspin who strives to right things before a crash. But in this case, it’s two people in the cockpit of state.

Last week we heard a rational take on this madness from the Jerusalem labor court, especially the presiding judge, Dita Pruginin, but also from the panel's two laypeople, Natan Mizrahi (from the employee side) and Eliezer Ya’ari (from the employers). Israelis, in the meantime, are disgusted by the Bibi-Sara misdeeds and are ready to raise the protest banner in their presence proclaiming “pay up now.”

The saga isn’t expected to end with last week’s 170,000-shekel ($43,800) judgment in favor of Meni Naftali, the former caretaker of the prime minister’s official residence. One might wager over a quarter million, because the legal defeat the prime minister’s household suffered isn’t the last for the Netanyahus. Within a month or so, proceedings will wrap up in the case of Naftali’s partner in misfortune, Guy Eliyahu, who sued for less after suffering for less time.

Many of the harsh findings in the Naftali case stem from impressions gleaned from the Eliyahu case – stories of the plaintiff’s witnesses versus tales of the defendants. The harmful treatment found in the Naftali case won’t be smoothed over in the Eliyahu case; damages will be set accordingly.

If the State Prosecutor’s Office and Civil Service Commission worked fairly after the labor court issued its judgment in the Naftali case, everyone on the government’s side in the case should have resigned: Shlomit Barnea Farago, the legal adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office (for the past 16 years, itself a scandal); Ran Yishai, the office’s deputy director general; and Jerusalem District Prosecutor Cochavit Dolev-Netzach, who bashed Naftali to get ahead.

Meanwhile, the police should have opened another criminal investigation against Sara Netanyahu after the court deemed credible the testimony of another employee, Etti Haim, who claimed to have been hit by Sara. The police should have done so without waiting for the approval of State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, Dolev-Netzach’s patron and party to her outrageous positions. Haim shouldn’t have to file a complaint; the court’s finding is enough to open an investigation.

If it’s ever judged that Haim is telling the truth, Sara Netanyahu committed two criminal offenses – perjury (in her affidavit and testimony on the stand) and assault. In similar assault cases, involving the throwing of tea at someone (tax official Shuki Vita at colleague Yael Shavit and Be’er Sheva resident Tzion Vaknin at MK Ahmad Tibi), defendants have been tried, convicted and sentenced, in one case to community service and in the other to four months in prison.

Sara Netanyahu’s complaint that she was blocked from having witnesses testify is a tasteless joke that comes too late. Her husband, Defendant No. 3 in the Naftali case – after the Prime Minister’s Office and its deputy director, Ezra Saidoff – dodged testifying for himself and his wife. That’s all he needed, to be caught lying on the stand, or worse, admitting the truth.

And we shouldn’t be overly impressed by the Netanyahus’ marital bonds. When he was questioned by the police in 1999 in the moving-contractor case, he shifted responsibility to Sara.