Sara Netanyahu skips court testimony in workplace abuse lawsuit

Judge dismisses arguments by attorney for PM’s wife over why she didn’t need to show up to give testimony: ‘This is outrageous’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife Sara at a welcoming ceremony for the Brazilian president at Ben Gurion Airport on March 31, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife Sara at a welcoming ceremony for the Brazilian president at Ben Gurion Airport on March 31, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife on Monday skipped a hearing in a lawsuit filed by a former cleaner at the prime minister’s official residence for alleged workplace abuse, drawing a furious response from the judge.

Sara Netanyahu is being sued by Shira Raban, an ultra-Orthodox mother of three who worked as a cleaner at the Netanyahus’ official residence in Jerusalem for a month in 2017, when she was 24.

Raban has alleged that the prime minister’s wife insulted her relentlessly throughout her short tenure and filed her lawsuit shortly after leaving her position, claiming NIS 225,000 ($64,000) in damages.

Netanyahu had been set to testify, but shortly before the hearing asked for her testimony to be delayed.

“Mrs. Netanyahu had to testify first. There is no reason for her not be here,” Judge Eyal Avrahami said at the hearing.

He added that the need to delay the testimony because Netanyahu didn’t show would be reflected in the court costs. He also ordered Netanyahu to appear at the next hearing and said she would testify first.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s residence said later on Sara Netanyahu’s behalf: “Mrs. Netanyahu respects the court. In discussions with her attorney, Yossi Cohen, she was explicitly told that she should not attend a hearing today and that she should only attend the next scheduled hearing.”

Judge Eyal Avrahami of the Jerusalem Labor Court at a hearing in a lawsuit filed against Sara Netanyahu by Shira Raban, a former cleaner at the Prime Minister’s Residence, on June 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Avrahami had harsh words for Netanyahu’s lawyers, Yossi Cohen, who said he didn’t believe there would be time for her to testify as there were other witnesses.

“This is outrageous,” the judge said in response.

He also dismissed Cohen’s argument that as a litigant in the case, Netanyahu had the right to hear others’ testimony before taking the stand.

“Thirty years I know the rules and am not familiar with this. A litigant does not have such a right,” Avrahami was quoted saying by the Haaretz daily.

Raban gave testimony in the suit in June, when she repeated her claims of the unacceptable conditions she was forced to endure by Netanyahu while working on the second floor of the residence.

Some of the former employee’s complaints included not being allowed to take leave when one of her children was sick, and being forced to use the bathroom outside the main building.

She also claimed that the prime minister’s oldest son, Yair Netanyahu, would conduct cleanliness inspections.

Netanyahu allegedly forbade the former staffer to eat, drink, or rest, and she was required to change her clothes dozens of times a day. She was also required to wash her hands about 100 times a day with hot water, and was expected to wipe them with a towel separate from the one used by the Netanyahu family, the lawsuit charges.

Shira Raban, a former cleaner at the Prime Ministers Residence, at the Jerusalem District Labor Court on June 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Monday’s hearing came as fresh accusations of workplace abuse surfaced against Sarah Netanyahu, with leaked documents revealing 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.

State prosecutors are examining the new claims of employee mistreatment allegedly perpetrated by Sara Netanyahu and will consider whether to recommend a criminal investigation against her once the evidence is weighed, Channel 13 news reported last month.

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.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and his wife Sara stand outside Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs on September 4, 2019. (PMO)

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.

Separately, Benjamin Netanyahu faces charges in three separate corruption cases, pre-indictment hearings for which have been held over the past week. He denies any wrongdoing.

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