Two weeks after leaked documents revealed that household staff at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem complained of being forced to work overtime without pay, and allegedly being illegally instructed to work on the Sabbath, new leaks reveal officials working to retroactively approve the overtime and find creative solutions for the weekend.
State prosecutors are examining the new claims of employee mistreatment allegedly perpetrated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, and will consider whether to recommend a criminal investigation against her once the evidence is weighed, Channel 13 news reported last month.
According to a Channel 12 report earlier this year, several cleaning workers at the residence reported being forced to work overtime without pay and on Shabbat. According to the claims, Netanyahu would have employees officially sign out at the proper time in the books, while forcing them to continue their work without any extra pay.
The Attorney General’s Office said it had received the complaints and was looking into them.
On Saturday night, Channel 12 broadcast new transcripts of recorded conversations between the Prime Minister’s Office budget department chief Drorit Steinmetz and two executives with the contractor that provides the household staff, the manpower firm Moria.
The conversation seemed to confirm suspicions of unpaid or falsely reported Sabbath work.
Steinmetz informed the Moria executives that her office was drawing up a list of all the “irregularities” in work hours in order to seek special approval to pay for them, “including retroactively.”
“I need you not to do these Shabbats” in future, she informed them.
“What Shabbats?” asked Yoreh Naveh, deputy CEO of Moria.
“I don’t know — there can’t be work [hours] on Shabbat,” Steinmetz said.
Naveh replied: “What? No one worked on Shabbat.”
Steimetz: “No one?”
Then Naveh’s colleague, Moria’s Jerusalem district head Yaakov Kadosh, corrected him. “Last week, two weeks ago” saw workers working on the Sabbath, he said.
“But you said she didn’t sign” for those hours, Steinmetz said, apparently referring to the employee who worked at the time.
“She didn’t sign,” Kadosh confirmed.
Naveh interjected, “I don’t know about this.”
Kadosh answered, “And you won’t see it on the time clock either.”
After admitting to the illegal practice, the three affirmed it must be stopped.
“No, it doesn’t matter, I’m not willing to have this happen,” Naveh said.
“And I’m not willing to let us act this way,” agreed Steinmetz.
They then turn to finding solutions for the purported demand by Sara Netanyahu to have household help during the Sabbath — including the two hours before and after the start of the Jewish Sabbath on Friday evening, when Israeli law explicitly forbids demanding a nonessential employee stay at work.
Naveh suggested “we can maybe try to ask for an exception, permission to work on Shabbat in the Prime Minister’s Residence.”
Kadosh noted the company was given special approval to send workers on the Sabbath during the last war. “How did we get [approval] during the war?” he asked.
Steinmetz asked if non-Jewish workers could be employed on the Sabbath, as Israel’s rest-day law, as concerned with religious freedom as with workers’ rights, defines an employee’s protected day of rest as the rest day stipulated in their religion.
“If you brought us a Druze worker, we wouldn’t have Shabbat [to worry about],” Steinmetz said.
But Kadosh replied that the company had no available Druze workers. “I looked. But we have a Muslim.”
Steinmetz replied that a Muslim employee “won’t pass screening,” referring to the extensive security screening carried out by the Shin Bet security service for employees with access to the prime minister.
Channel 12 was critical of the conversation, saying it showed “attempts to cut corners” on the part of the PMO. It also offered an acknowledgement of the “irregularities” employees have complained about.
In its response to the Saturday report, a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied the claim that the couple had ordered employees to work on Shabbat.
“Contrary to the claim [in the report], the prime minister and his wife do not wish for any employee from a manpower company to work on Shabbat,” the statement said.
The Prime Minister’s Office also released a response, noting that the transcript itself showed the PMO official in the conversation eager to ensure adherence to the law.
“PMO Director General Ronen Peretz has full faith in the professionalism of Ms. Drorit Steinmetz and in her actions in this instance,” the statement reads.
“Even in this conversation, a slanted leak from the manpower contractor, Ms. Steinmetz explicitly states that [household employees] cannot work on Shabbat. As for the irregularities in work hours — that was a single instance and is not representative” of the office’s policy.
The statement added: “Last week, the PMO director general met with the CEO of Moria. At the meeting, the [PMO’s] work-hour regulations for the company’s employees were reiterated.”
After the late-September report was released, a spokesman for Prime Minister Netanyahu called the claims “more false, vicious, recycled slander.” He said such employee testimonies alleging ill-treatment by Sara Netanyahu — of which there have been many over the years — were based on “finding a small number of disgruntled employees who were fired out of the hundreds who have worked at the Prime Minister’s Residence over the years and asking them to defame Mrs. Netanyahu.”
Several former employees have claimed mistreatment and abuse by the prime minister’s wife. The official residence’s former caretaker successfully sued her for verbal and emotional abuse, as did another former worker.
In June, Sara Netanyahu was convicted of misusing public funds as part of a plea deal in a case involving allegations she illegally procured and then misreported catering services at the Prime Minister’s Residence.
The agreement saw Netanyahu escape a conviction of aggravated fraud, but confess to a lesser charge of taking advantage of a mistake. She was ordered to pay NIS 55,000 ($15,210) to the state — NIS 10,000 as a fine, and the rest as restitution.