Despite protests from women’s groups and others, a former chief of staff to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct, participated in the first session of negotiations toward building Israel’s next coalition on Sunday.
Israel’s deputy attorney general said that although Nathan Eshel was barred from the civil service under a plea bargain, there was no legal impediment to him acting “in a political role,” as a member of the negotiating team of Netanyahu’s Likud party. He was participating in the talks “on behalf of the Likud,” Dina Zilber ruled, “a political body outside the civil service.”
Zilber issued the statement after Meretz leader MK Tamar Zandberg called for Eshel to be barred from the talks. Zandberg had called on the Attorney General’s Office to “send a clear message that sexual harassment and violence against women are serious, unacceptable offenses, and that is not permissible for someone who has been removed from public service for such offenses to return to a role that impacts public life as though nothing has happened.”
The Israel Women’s Network also issued a statement decrying Eshel’s inclusion on the Likud team, saying it was “spitting in the faces” of women.
The Na’amat women’s movement protested that Eshel “should not have a role in shaping Israel’s next government.”
Eshel, a close confidant of Netanyahu’s, served in the PMO between 2009 and 2012. He resigned as part of a plea bargain over the sexual misconduct allegations, specifically that he had used a surreptitiously placed camera to film under the skirt of a female colleague. He was also accused of accessing her private emails.
News that Eshel would be participating in the coalition talks prompted considerable criticism in recent days, with the Ynet news site reporting that hundreds of Israelis emailed the Prime Minister’s Office to urge that he not be allowed to do so.
In a statement Sunday, Eshel said he was determined to be active on behalf of the public, and protested that “for years I’ve been accused of everything that moves and doesn’t move. It’s surreal and crazy.”
Coalition negotiations began Sunday between Likud and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, with the latter presenting a list of demands on security, immigration, and religion and state issues.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin from Likud and Oded Forer of Yisrael Beytenu, heading their respective parties’ negotiation teams, met at Kfar Maccabiah in Ramat Gan for several hours.
The sides failed to come to any agreement and said they would meet again at a later date.
President Reuven Rivlin last Wednesday officially tasked Netanyahu with assembling a coalition to govern the 21st Knesset. Netanyahu, who will be serving as prime minister for an unprecedented fifth term, is expected to cobble together a coalition of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties.