Refusal to Testify Could Delay Harassment Probe Against Netanyahu's Chief Aide, Say Sources

Investigating Civil Service Commission may force alleged victim to testify, but will be criticized by the public for using sanctions.

An investigation into claims that the Prime Minister's Bureau chief, Natan Eshel, sexually harassed a female coworker could be delayed by the alleged victim's refusal to testify, say sources involved in the case.

The Civil Service Commission, conducting the investigation, has a number of possible ways to force the alleged victim, known as R., to appear and testify, but it is clear to both the commission and to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein's office that imposing sanctions on her would raise serious public criticism and be considered disproportionate - especially as R. is the alleged victim and not a suspect.

Natan Eshel - Nir Keidar - 29012012
Nir Keidar

R. is firm in refusing to testify before the commission, or anywhere else. Her attorneys say she will fight for her right not to testify before either legal or disciplinary bodies. Nothing has changed on her part despite the fact that the examination into the matter has turned into an official investigation, said sources close to R. on Monday. She still does not want to testify and wants her identity and details kept secret.

Preliminary evidence collected in the investigation is insufficient to bring charges against Eshel, said officials from the commission and the Justice Ministry.

Gil Shefer, the director of the Prime Minister's Bureau, testified on Monday before the commission on relations between Eshel and R. Shefer reported that he had not seen any disciplinary or criminal offenses on Eshel's part.

The commission and Justice Ministry sources said that R.'s unwillingness to testify could cause the legal process to drag on for a long time.

But the chances that Weinstein or the Civil Service Commission will take any sanctions against her for not testifying, such as disciplinary action, is considered to be extremely problematic and unlikely, they said.

There have been cases in the past where a civil servant suspected of disciplinary offenses has refused to appear and testify. In such cases they were suspended from work, and this usually led to their agreeing to give testimony. But R.'s case is quite different since she is not a suspect.

In other cases, civil service investigators have gone to the workplace of a public employee who refused to appear in order to question them, but again, in these cases the employee was the suspect.

The investigation is being conducted by the Civil Service Commission after Weinstein decided on Sunday not to order a criminal investigation at this stage.

Three senior members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's staff - National Information Directorate head Yoaz Hendel, Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser and Netanyahu's Military Secretary Yohanan Locker - informed Weinstein of Eshel's alleged improprieties last week.

Eshel announced on Sunday that he is taking a 10-day leave of absence from work, as ordered by Weinstein.