A former caretaker at the Prime Minister’s Residence was mistreated while working for Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, the Jerusalem Labor Court ruled Wednesday, awarding Menny Naftali damages over claims of verbal and emotional abuse at the hands of Sara Netanyahu.
The court awarded Naftali NIS 170,000 compensation (about $43,735) for the years of mistreatment while working at the Jerusalem mansion, and also ruled he had been misled over his terms of employment at the residence.
“I knew I’d win,” Naftali said following the ruling. “The amount of compensation does not matter to me because I am in much bigger debt than this sentence, but this is just the beginning for me. I am waiting for the libel suits concerning anyone who spoke against me. To me this is just a small victory along the way.”
Naftali had sued the state, the Netanyahus, and the deputy director of the Prime Minister’s Office for NIS 1 million ($258,000) in 2014.
Accusations by Naftali, as well as by another maintenance worker, Guy Eliyahu, ranged from claims of verbal abuse and what he called irrational demands by Sara Netanyahu regarding the management of the residence to allegations that the prime minister’s wife made him return wine bottles to supermarkets and then pocketed the deposits.
On one occasion, Naftali said, she called him at 3 a.m. to berate him for buying milk in a bag rather than a cartoon. On another occasion, she demanded that a table, freshly laid for a meal outside the residence, be cleared and set afresh because somebody had opened an electric awning above it, sending some dust down.
Mrs. Netanyahu also threw a vase of day-old flowers on the floor, scolding him that they were not fresh enough, he said.
Naftali has also claimed that Sara Netanyahu derided his ethnicity when he ordered food for them in a hotel, implying that his Middle Eastern background was somehow uncouth.
Naftali claimed that Ms. Netanyahu made him undertake chores at all hours of the day. He accused the Netanyahus of spending money on food and drink ordered from outside the residence, despite the fact that a cook working at the Prime Minister’s Residence is paid for by the state.
The judge wrote in her ruling that “numerous testimonies presented to the court point to an atmosphere of harmful work conditions at the residence due to the behavior of Mrs. Netanyahu and her attitude toward the workers. These included irrational demands, insults, humiliation and outbursts of rage.”
In March, Naftali testified against the Netanyahus, who in turn countered that the suit was born of the former caretaker’s frustration over not having received tenure in the position after working as a temporary caretaker for two years.
After Naftali’s allegations went public, Sara Netanyahu claimed the former caretaker was seeking to extort money from the state’s coffers. She also said Naftali “threatened and blackmailed” the Prime Minister’s Office, adding that she had text messages to prove it.
Wednesday’s court ruling, however, determined that Sara Netanyahu’s claims were not based in fact, and stated that “it is regrettable that Mrs. Netanyahu chose to discredit so severely a former employee of the Prime Minister’s Residence.”
In response to the verdict the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement which said “the picture drawn by the ruling is far from the reality in the Prime Minister’s Residence. It is regrettable that even though the court rejected 90 percent of Menny Naftali’s monetary claims, the court elected to devote a significant portion of its ruling to Mrs. Netanyahu, who was not a side in the case.”
It went on to claim that “many employees at the Prime Minister’s Residence testify to the excellent, warm and humane treatment they receive from the prime minister’s wife.”
Naftali and Eliyahu’s allegations were widely covered by the Hebrew-language media, which has often reported on the Netanyahus’ lavish lifestyle, including outsize expenses charged to state coffers, and has also portrayed Sara Netanyahu as a difficult person who wields great influence over her husband.
Last month, Sara Netanyahu was questioned for a second time by police’s high-profile crimes unit, days after she was grilled for more than six hours over alleged spending irregularities at the prime minister’s official and private residences, some of which came to light based on Naftali’s testimony.
The investigation went forward despite a request by the family’s lawyer to close the probe. The decision to launch the investigation followed a recommendation from State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, after allegations were raised in a February 2015 report by State Comptroller Yosef Shapira that detailed wasteful spending by Netanyahu and his wife at their official residence in Jerusalem and private home in Caesarea. The report also alleged possible criminal misdeeds.
The investigation highlighted multiple suspected irregularities, including in the hiring of electrician Avi Fahima, a Likud Central Committee member. A committee charged with overseeing residence expenditures — and which included the Prime Minister’s Office legal adviser — had ruled against the hiring of Fahima, but he was employed nonetheless.
The report also alleged that between 2009 and 2013 Sara Netanyahu pocketed thousands of shekels of refunds for recycling of empty bottles from the Prime Minister’s Residence.
The report on the expenditures came out in the midst of an election campaign and found that the residence operated for years without an audited budget. It raised questions about the use of public funds, which were spent on — among other things — the upkeep of the Netanyahus’ pool at their private home.
The report also noted that, beginning in 2013 — when criticism led to heightened awareness of the issue among the prime minister’s staff — a systematic, audited budget was instituted and expenditures declined precipitously.
AP contributed to this report.