The manager at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence does not permit Ethiopian Israelis to go up to the home’s living quarters, allegedly at the request of Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported Thursday.
Citing two supervisors who worked at the house on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, the report claimed that residence manager Efi Azulai has made it clear in private conversations that house workers of Ethiopian origin may not go up to the second floor, where the residential quarters are located, as they are “not suitable” for work there.
The newspaper also said that a recording it had obtained from a phone conversation between an Ethiopian-Israeli worker and another staff member had the two discussing Sara Netanyahu accusing members of the ethnic minority of carrying germs.
In the conversation, Matasbia Mengistu said that when fresh laundry arrives, Netanyahu sends them away, commenting on their supposed germs. On some occasions, Mengistu recounted, she had to hide in the pantry as the laundry was being brought through.
Mengistu also appeared to indicate that laundry was sometimes sent back to be washed again if she was deemed to have been in the same room when it arrived.
“If I am there, they send it back to the laundry again,” Mengistu said.
She also recounted that Azulai would tell Ethiopian Israeli staff that Sara Netanyahu would complain to him that they did not clean well and that “she was disgusted by you.”
A preview of the report was published by the newspapers’s Ynet website, ahead of the full report, which will be published on Friday.
One source, not named in the report and who was responsible for housekeeping staff, said that Azulai specifically asked him to not send Ethiopian Israelis to the second floor, except under exceptional cases.
The worker told Ynet that Azulai said to him Ethiopian Israelis are “not suitable” for work on that floor and claimed that the only time they were allowed up to the second floor was if other staff, usually tasked with working on that level, were unavailable.
“That was only in an emergency situation,” said the worker, who, at the request of the paper, underwent a polygraph test that it said indicated he was telling the truth.
Another source who also said he was involved in the employment of workers at the residence told a similar story.
He said it “was clear” that the Ethiopians do not go to the second floor.
The Netanyahu family’s legal representatives denied the claims, saying in a statement to the paper that the report was a “false, shaming article.”
“The claims that you made are degrading, false, fake news,” the statement said. It described the various lawsuits filed by housekeepers at the residence against the Netanyahus over mistreatment over the years, as “a new start-up whose purpose is to extort money from the country.”
“Mimi Mengistu has picked up the method and is making use of the same lawsuit assembly line,” the statement said using Mengistu’s nickname.
It continued that Mengistu was “cynically and falsely” using accusations of racism “in order to further blacken the image of Sara Netanyahu.”
Attorneys further claimed that Sara Netanyahu, who is a child psychologist, had provided Mengistu with assistance and professional guidance when she “got into trouble,” in order to “rescue her children from the complications they encountered.”
The statement said the attorneys would not go into further details out of consideration for personal privacy.
A statement on behalf of Efi Azulai said the claims were “lies and false” and noted that since there is an ongoing police investigation he would not further respond. There is currently an ongoing probe into whether two employees at the Prime Minister’s Residence gave false testimony in a civil case against Sara Netanyahu — purportedly in order to help her fend off accusations of mistreating a cleaner at the residence..
Azulai’s statement said that once that probe is completed “He will use all means at his disposal to expose the lies and bring to justice the defamers.”
Last month, Sara Netanyahu sued one of the two employees in the investigation for libel and breach of contract. The two employees had given statements to police, which they later retracted, defending Netanyahu in a lawsuit that also claimed mistreatment of a worker.
Netanyahu faces a civil lawsuit from former employee Shira Raban, who claims that the premier’s wife mistreated her during a brief stint working at the residence. Raban seeks $63,000 in damages over alleged mistreatment and harassment.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu drew scorn from women’s rights groups and activists after she claimed during a TV interview that she had experienced “sexual violence” from demonstrators rallying against the premier, as well as for branding herself and her children as “battered.”
In a rare interview with Channel 12, Sara Netanyahu proclaimed, “I am a battered woman and my children are battered,” referring to the growing protest movement calling for the resignation of Israel’s longest-serving leader, who is currently on trial for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.
The Netanyahus have recently complained of threats of murder as the weekly protests against the prime minister’s corruption cases and handling of the coronavirus pandemic have swelled to include tens of thousands of demonstrators.
Several former employees have claimed mistreatment and abuse by the prime minister’s wife. The official residence’s former caretaker successfully sued her in the past for verbal and emotional abuse, as did another former worker.
In June 2019, Sara Netanyahu was convicted of misusing public funds as part of a plea deal in a case involving allegations that she illegally procured, and then misreported, catering services at the Prime Minister’s Residence.
The agreement saw Netanyahu escape a conviction for 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.