Employees at the president’s official residence in Jerusalem have claimed that former president Reuven Rivlin was a bullying boss who tyrannized workers, bringing some to tears, Channel 12 news reported on Saturday.
The jovial Rivlin, who was well-liked by many in Israel, offered an apology for any offense he may have caused, but also criticized the fact that the complaints were anonymous and unofficial. A spokesperson for President Isaac Herzog, who also served under Rivlin, rejected the claims outright.
Rivlin entered office in July 2014 at the age of 75 and served until July 2021. He began his term as the country was at war in the Gaza Strip and during his seven years oversaw an unprecedented run of four national elections in two years. He also suffered the loss of his wife, Nechama, in 2019.
Channel 12 reported that it had spoken with more than ten workers who painted a picture of a brusque, short-tempered man, whose true nature clashed with the “cuddly grandfather” persona seen in public.
“We received such blatant, repulsive, disgusting treatment,” a worker said. “We were just waiting for the seven years to be up. It’s sad that I have to say these things, this is a man who served in the loftiest position in the country. It’s sad. I’m ashamed of it.”
Another employee, described as a “veteran” at the residence, told the network that Rivlin would call telephone switchboard operators “stupid” if they didn’t transfer calls fast enough and told one worker he “was not suitable to work here.”
“This was standard as far as we were concerned,” he said.
One worker claimed Rivlin would lash out if radios carried by security were turned up too high, telling them it was not “a taxi stand.”
“There was literally screaming going on there,” the source said. “Poor security guards.”
The source also said that if workers talking in the parking lot were making too much noise, Rivlin would open his window and shout, “What is is this, a marketplace? Go back to your offices.”
The same worker further claimed that “women in the office were brought to tears by him. Until his last day… they cried.”
Asked to clarify, the worker said Rivlin would criticize and “humiliate them.”
Another worker said a security guard once brought Rivlin a newspaper but the president threw it back at him and then slammed the door without offering an explanation.
One of the sources claimed the harsh interactions could even become physical, such as the newspaper incident and another occasion when a worker volunteered to try to fix a television set in the president’s living quarters that wasn’t not working properly.
According to the source, Rivlin became impatient with worker and eventually grabbed him by the “edge of his shirt” and threw him out, telling him, “We understand we don’t need your help here.”
Rivlin also offended a large number of the staff when he sought to reduce the workforce at the residence, which numbers around 100, telling a gathering of employees that “there is 40 percent unemployment” at the site.
The remark was directed at drivers and those whose job was to plan events, a source said.
“They were very offended and made a fuss over it,” the source said.
Rivlin, in a statement responding to the report, offered an apology to anyone he may have hurt or offended, while also noting that all the complaints were anonymous and that even while he was still in office he was aware of differences of opinion regarding some of his policies.
“I believe that there is no active person who does not cause harm by his conduct toward others — whether due to high demands or enormous stress due to the nature of the work,” he said.
The former president began by congratulating Channel 12 reporters for “their faithful work to expose misconduct by public figures.”
“The allegations made anonymously imply that I, too, did not live up to the expectations from a senior figure,” he said.
Rivlin said he had never prevented any worker from lodging a complaint and reiterated that he thought the President’s Residence could be run more efficiently.
“I knew that there are employees who do not see eye to eye with me on the need for change and I lament the actions they chose to take to present their opposition then and now,” he said.
Nonetheless, Rivlin wrote, “I apologize to everyone I have hurt and make it clear that I did not intend to confront anyone on a personal basis but only in light of my professional demands from them.
“If, during my many years there… I exposed my anger or sorrow to them, then I apologize to them and I am sure that at least some of them are no less sorry for the way things were presented in your [Channel 12] piece.”
The foreign media adviser at the president’s residence, Jason Pearlman, who served for years under Rivlin, tweeted in response to the Channel 12 report that he “never experienced or heard of behavior” as it was reported.
“The conduct was professional and enjoyable and focused on serving the good of the people and the entire country,” Pearlman wrote.
Rivlin was replaced on July 7 last year by President Herzog.