Ex-PM aide, accused of sexual misconduct, may be Likud negotiator, drawing ire

Ex-PM aide, accused of sexual misconduct, may be Likud negotiator, drawing ire

Meretz head Zandberg asks attorney general to prevent former PMO official Natan Eshel from participating in coalition formation talks

Natan Eshel (Kobi Gideon / Flash90)
Natan Eshel (Kobi Gideon / Flash90)

The head of the left-wing Meretz party and a prominent women’s group on Sunday protested the intended participation of a Likud official in coalition talks, due to his past resignation from the Prime Minister’s Office over allegations of sexual misconduct.

Natan Eshel is expected to be a member of the Likud team that will meet with President Reuven Rivlin on Monday morning to recommend Benjamin Netanyahu as the next prime minister.

Eshel served in the PMO between 2009-2012 and resigned as part of a plea bargain over the 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.

Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg asked the attorney general not to approve Eshel’s inclusion on the team to send a clear message to women that sexual harassment and violence against women are “serious and unacceptable offenses.”

Meretz party chairperson MK Tamar Zandberg speaks at the opening of the Meretz party campaign in Tel Aviv on March 11, 2019. (Flash90)

“I appeal to you to enforce the plea bargain and instruct the prime minister not to include Eshel in any public position,” Zandberg wrote to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. “Send a clear message that sexual harassment and violence against women are serious and unacceptable offenses, and that it will not be allowed for a person who was removed from the public service for these offenses, to return to a position with influence on public life as if nothing had happened.”

The Israel Women’s Network issued a statement decrying Eshel’s inclusion on the Likud team, saying it was “spitting in the faces” of women.

“It is inconceivable, as if there was no #metoo, as if the biggest women’s protest in the history of the State of Israel just did not happen. Netanyahu, you are the prime minister of the entire population of the State of Israel, half of whom are women. You have a tremendous responsibility. To give Eshel this role is spitting in our faces,” the statement read.

Thousands rally at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square as part of a nationwide strike protesting the violence against women, December 4, 2018 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The consultations with party representatives will be held at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. On Monday, Rivlin will meet with Likud, Blue and White, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Hadash-Ta’al and Labor. On Tuesday, he will consult with the leaders of Yisrael Beytenu, the Union of Right-Wing Parties, Meretz, Kulanu, and Ra’am-Balad.

Rivlin announced that the talks will be broadcast live on various media for the first time, “in the name of transparency” and “in a historic and pioneering decision.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin attend a ceremony awarding outstanding soldiers as part of Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations, at the President’s residence in Jerusalem, April 19, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rivlin seems certain to entrust the task of forming a government to Netanyahu, who is likely to be able to build a coalition of up to 65 seats, comprising Likud (36 seats), the ultra-Orthodox Shas (eight seats), United Torah Judaism (seven), the Union of Right-Wing Parties (five), Kulanu (four), and likely Yisrael Beytenu (five).

Netanyahu was confirmed Thursday night as the big winner of the elections, when the Central Elections Committee published the completed tallies of Tuesday’s election, a full 60 hours after the polling stations closed. He has held power consecutively for the past decade, and also was prime minister in 1996-1999, and would thus be starting his fifth term in office; by July, he would overtake David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest serving prime minister.

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