Woman suing Sara Netanyahu for workplace abuse has her day in court

Lawyer for PM’s wife disputes Shira Raban’s claim she was subjected to unacceptable conditions

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

A woman suing the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, for alleged abuse in the workplace when she was employed as a cleaner at the Prime Minister’s Residence took the stand in court for the first time Tuesday, and was accused by the defense of lying for money.

Shira Raban, then a 24-year-old ultra-Orthodox mother of three, worked as a cleaner at the Netanyahus’ official residence for a month in 2017. She filed her lawsuit shortly after leaving her position, claiming NIS 225,000 ($64,000) in damages. Raban has alleged that the prime minister’s wife insulted her relentlessly throughout her short tenure.

Raban gave testimony at the Jerusalem District Labor Court, where she repeated her claims of the unacceptable conditions she was forced to endure by Netanyahu while working on the second floor of the residence.

“On the first day I was in shock,” she said. “The conduct in the residence is unusual. It was important for Mrs. Netanyahu on the first day that I be properly instructed. That I understand the rules of the second floor and that I made sure to wash my hands before and after each thing I did.”

“It’s not a day’s work, it’s a day of abuse,” she said of the work conditions imposed on her. “It’s harmful to the body from the first second.”

Attorney Yossi Cohen, representing Sara Netanyahu, wife of the prime minister, seen before the start of a court hearing on June 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s attorney Yossi Cohen rejected Raban’s claim that his client was with her for almost all of the hours of her first day at the residence and said that on that particular date Netanyahu was in Tel Aviv in the afternoon.

“You are lying,” he accused and also challenged Raban to explain how, if she was forced to work relentlessly as she claimed, she had also found time to send “hundreds of text messages” to her sister during work hours.

While Raban admitted that she had sent “a lot” of messages, she claimed to have done so only during the multiple times she changed her clothes, as Netanyahu demanded of her.

Raban also explained that she did not tell her husband about the conditions at the residence, or her employers, because she felt honored to be working at such an important location and because, as her family’s breadwinner, she did not want to lose her income.

“I felt a tremendous honor to serve the prime minister and his wife,” she said.”I was ashamed to tell my husband what was happening with me there, I was simply ashamed. As a woman who supports and has three children, I do not have the freedom and the option to leave and not have a livelihood.

“When I was hired, [PMO Director-General Yoav] Horowitz and others told me that I had to fulfill the wishes of Mrs. Netanyahu,” Raban said. “They themselves do not know what is happening on the second floor. I didn’t find the courage to convey to my employer what was happening there.”

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara, center, sits in a courtroom in Jerusalem, on October 7, 2018. (Amit Shabi, Yedioth Ahronoth, Pool via AP)

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.

The Netanyahus deny any wrongdoing, dismissing allegations as a political witch hunt by a hostile media.

Last month Raban filed court papers seeking court summons of a number of senior officials, including PMO Director-General Horowitz, the official residence manager Effie Azoulay, and the prime minister’s adviser on ultra-Orthodox affairs, Rivka Paluch, the Walla news site reported at the time.

Several former employees have previously alleged mistreatment by the prime minister’s wife. The official residence’s former caretaker has successfully sued her for verbal and emotional abuse.

Sara Netanyahu is also involved in an ongoing criminal case in which she and Ezra Saidoff, a former caretaker at the Prime Minister’s Residence, were charged over allegations they misused some $100,000 in funds on catered meals while there was a full-time chef on staff. She is mulling a plea bargain in that case.

Sara Netanyahu’s trial is separate from her husband’s legal woes, which revolve around suspicions the prime minister accepted illicit gifts, took bribes and tried to arrange favors for media barons in exchange for positive press coverage.

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