Netanyahu thanks ousted bureau chief for service

Natan Eshel forced to step down as part of plea bargain in harassment case

Natan Eshel arrives for questioning at the Civil Service Commission in Jerusalem in February 2012 (photo caption: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Natan Eshel arrives for questioning at the Civil Service Commission in Jerusalem in February 2012 (photo caption: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked his bureau chief for his service Sunday, hours after the top aide quit in the wake of a harassment investigation.

Natan Eshel, head of the Prime Minister’s Bureau, was asked to step down from his post earlier Sunday following a plea bargain with the civil services commission in the harassment case against him.

In an official statement released Sunday, Netanyahu thanked Eshel for his “dedication and good work,” as well as his “important contribution to the successful work of the Israeli government”.

He added that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein had updated him personally regarding the plea bargain.

The statement went on to reveal that Netanyahu had asked his office manager, Gil Sheffer, to fill the position of bureau chief “in order to ensure that work continues” in the office.

Commenting on Eshel’s resignation, opposition leader Tzipi Livni said Sunday that “the moral of the story that ended today is clear – Israel cannot be a country in which men harass their subordinates.”

She added that the indictment of former president Moshe Katzav and Eshel’s resignation “give women the power to complain without fear,” stressing that women who have been harassed at the workplace must feel free to “go and complain without fearing persecution.”

The case began when coworkers brought forth allegations that Eshel was acting inappropriately toward a fellow female employee, known as R. The alleged behavior includes following R., taking photos of a sexual nature, and accessing private emails. R. elected to not take the stand against Eshel, preferring to remain anonymous, although according to a Maariv report 28 people were ultimately questioned in the investigation.

As part of the plea bargain deal, approved on Sunday, Eshel admitted misconduct in the affair, despite the fact that the evidence presented was circumstantial. He will receive a “severe reprimand” and be forced to leave his position and retire from public service by March 1. He had been on a forced vacation from his post since the beginning of the month.

In an official statement released on Sunday, Eshel cited the “heavy financial burden” to clear his name as a major factor in his decision, along with his age, his health and family considerations.

“The past month I have been under terrible attack, in the heart of a storm that made my life and the life of my family into a nightmare,” he said. “I decided, in consultation with my wife and children, to accept the arrangement, receive the light disciplinary action, quit my job and continue with my life.”

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