The sexual harassment case that led to the dismissal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau’s Chief of Staff Natan Eshel from public service, is now being revealed.
The weak handling of the case by law enforcement authorities led to Eshel merely undergoing a disciplinary hearing by the Civil Service Commission, although in many people’s opinions, there was room for criminal investigation by the police. The testimonies that were collected at the time by the Civil Service Commission’s disciplinary department are now being published. The rattling document, spans 21 pages of dense testimony by 28 employees, including the most senior officials of the Prime Minister’s Bureau, Israel’s holiest of holies.
The document provides grave evidence of what happened there in the years 2010-2011, when Nathan Eshel developed a strange and powerful obsession with R., one of his subordinates.
The document was received by The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication Maariv. Here, almost verbatim, is the testimony of the then-cabinet secretary, Tzvi Hauser, who served as acting director-general of the bureau, and thus the person in charge of its human resources, responsible for handling information related to sexual harassment offenses.
This is Houser’s testimony:
“A few days after December 12, 2011, in the evening, Yoaz Hendel [then the head of the Public Relations Department in the Prime Minister’s Office] entered my office and asked to consult with me on a sensitive subject he could not cope with alone. He looked distraught and told me that he recently became friends with R., who worked in the office and that she had opened her heart to him and told him about her difficult relationship with Natan Eshel, dominated by the feeling that Eshel had taken control of her life. Yoaz characterized the discussion as very difficult and that it was accompanied by burst of weeping by R.
“I’m not sure if he spoke to her once or a number of times. The main point of the matter is that R. is experiencing an unbearable reality, in which her privacy is violated by Eshel, her email inbox is inspected against her will, she fears he is following her and reading her private emails … Handel added that R told him that Eshel took a number of embarrassing photos of R., including up her skirt, and that knowledge of these pictures reached other office personnel, when Eshel’s iPhone was taken for repair by then deputy director for operations Ezra Seidoff. I understood from Yoaz that Jordana [Kotler, who today functions as Facebook’s primary lobbyist in Israel, and was at the time a senior employee in the Prime Minister’s Office] is aware of the details, or at least some of them … I think that in this conversation, Yoaz Hendel may have also told me about the things that were published in a Ma’ariv gossip column that R. blames Eshel for.
“At the time I met with Yoaz Hendel, I was also serving as Acting Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office and felt obliged, as R.’s employer, to act on this information. I asked Yoaz to think about it and the following morning I suggested that we share the information and consult with Brig.- Gen. Yohanan Locker [then the prime minister’s military secretary], due to his personality and management experience.
“I must note that when Yoaz told me about the photo incident, it immediately brought to mind another odd and embarrassing incident I was witness to myself. A few months ago, sometime in the summer I think, I mentioned it to Yoaz. It happened during a meeting in Eshel’s room. Eshel sat to my right and R. sat to his right, in a semicircle, so that R.’s chair was a little ahead of Eshel, and Eshel’s chair was slightly ahead of mine.
“Even though we were sitting in Eshel’s room, he did not sit in his seat at the head of the table. In his place was Gil Shefer [then Eshel’s deputy]. Eshel was holding his iPhone in his right hand in a strange way — the hand was stretched downward and he was moving his hand and body as if trying to read what was written on the screen. I intuitively thought he was making the odd motions because of a problem with his eyesight, but when I looked at the screen, which was facing my direction, I was amazed that it was not an attempt to read text, because the camera application was activated and through the monitor I could clearly see hips and the line between the legs and the rear side of the skirt. After about five seconds, Eshel noticed I could see what he was doing and snapped his hand and body backwards and the discussion continued as usual.
“I saw it as an embarrassing and unworthy act, but I thought it was a momentary and random impulse, and R. certainly did not see it.”
“Yoaz agreed to include Locker and three of us held a conversation. Locker’s response was adamant. He believed the fact that she shared her feelings with her surroundings was evidence that she was in real distress and that perhaps this was just the tip of the iceberg. He also expressed concern that she might carry out a suicidal act, that these were severe acts, perhaps even criminal, and that as acting director-general I must act immediately and file a complaint.
“At one point, Locker’s office manager was brought into the room and we shared the details with her. Her response was that we were blind, and that everybody knew about the sick and disturbed relationship between Eshel and R. We decided to consult with [former attorney general Menachem] Mazuz … He said we must pass the information on. We decided that Yoaz and I would talk to the attorney general. In the conversation, Yoaz told the AG what he told me. I added the information about the case I had witnessed. The conversation took place on December 12, 2011.
“The AG asked for a few days to consult. On December 18, Yoaz informed me that he had been summoned to give a detailed report to the AG and his staff, and that he had spoken to Noa, his subordinate, who R. had also revealed the story to.
“Yoaz relayed that Noa had told him about several conversations with R. in which she had broken into tears and told her that Eshel had taken embarrassing upskirt photographs of her. Noa said that R. was afraid that Eshel was following her. Noa said she had witnessed an incident during a flight to the US, in which Eshel ordered security guards to move away from their seat next to R. He gave R. a sleeping pill and ordered her to go to sleep. He displayed complete knowledge of all her actions. In addition, Noa said that R. told her that Eshel regularly checks her purse. Noa said she urged R. to seek professional assistance to get out of the relationship. According to her, R. told her that she received punishment from Eshel if she defied him and that he could locate and reach her at any time.
“The next day, on December 19, we held a three-way conversation Noa, Yoaz Hendel and myself, in which she repeated her statements. She said she held five conversations with R. on this subject, during which R. explicitly complained about upskirt photographs, frequent rummaging through her purse, inspection of her text messages and so forth. She said that she caught Eshel prying through her email inbox and checking personal emails.
“The next day, on 20 December, Yoaz relayed another conversation that he had held with R. that same day, during which she recounted a case she considered to be a crossing of red lines, in which Eshel summoned her to his room claiming that his computer had broken down and that at some point she leaned toward the computer and felt a foreign object between her legs.
“The next day, on December 21, there was another three-way conversation, this time between me, Yoaz and R. herself, at Yoaz’s house … During the meeting, R. repeated the events as I described … She was very nervous and distraught and repeatedly expressed concern that she would be tormented and a desire to leave her workplace, but doubted she could do so because of Eshel’s refusal and out of fear of his power.
As she was describing the various ways he could torment her and hurt her and her career, she said Eshel acts like he has to know everything that happens to her, including her private life, and hinted at personal relationships and the development of personal relationships … She appeared to be very credible in that conversation. She did not cry, but was very scared and tense.
“Many believed their relationship at some point deviated from a normal supervisor-subordinate relationship, and the subject arose from time to time in my conversations with Gil Shefer. He hinted to me from time to time about Eshel’s obsessive attitude toward R., that he was attached to her, in love with her and follows her every step. There was an incident when I was in Gil’s office and he turned my attention to the fact that Eshel went into R.’s room and sat at her computer and observed the computer screen. At the time Gil pointed out to me that he [Eshel] frequently checked R.’s emails, and that as far as he knew, he said he also snooped through her text messages and purse when she was out of the room.”
This was Hauser’s testimony. The testimony of Yoaz Hendel and Yochanan Locker are no less disturbing.
According to the testimony of others, Hauser wasn’t the only one to witness Eshel’s upskirt workshop. Others said they saw Eshel pointing his celular camera under R’s skirt during official meetings, one of them in the US Congress.
The deplorable relationship between the Prime Minister’s Chief of staff and one of the employees carried on for months without anyone doing anything to end it.
Those who did, Handel, Hauser and Locker paid a personal cost. Handel was almost immediately removed from the Bureua, hauzer was forced to resign at the end of the term and sent into exile [he had planned to run for Knesset in the Likud, but passed on the possibility because he knew the prime minister would act against him] Locker was not appointed Air Force Commander, a position he was competing for.
When Eshel quit the bureau, prime minister Netanyahu published a supportive statement, praising Eshel’s achievements and completely ignoring the camera.
Natan Eshel’s response: “I am shocked that testimonies that were never handed to us and are supposed to be solely in the hands of the Civil Service Commission were leaked. In addition, in contrast to what you present, it must be remembered that I was prosecuted for a disciplinary offense with no sexual nature. This recycling of a disciplinary incident that happened six years ago is motivated by Ben Caspit’s desire for personal revenge on me.”