Two days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bureau chief Natan Eshel was forced to resign as part of a plea agreement over sexual harassment allegations, one of the three senior officials who raised suspicions of Eshel’s wrongdoing is resigning.
Yoaz Hendel, who heads the National Information Directorate, told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he intends to step down, reportedly after Netanyahu expressed “deep disappointment” over Hendel’s behavior in the affair, as well as that of Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser and Military Secretary Yohanan Locker.
The investigation began in January when Hendel, Hauser and Locker approached Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein and raised suspicions of inappropriate conduct, later claimed to be sexual harassment of a female subordinate, by Eshel.
According to several sources, Netanyahu told Hauser, Hendel and Locker: “I have lost faith in you.” On Tuesday, Liran Dan, the prime minister’s spokesperson, denied that Netanyahu has uttered those words.
On Sunday the Civil Service Commission announced it reached a plea bargain with Eshel, one of Netanyahu’s most trusted aides, which stipulates Eshel must resign from state service by March 1 and will never be able to work in the public sector again. He will also receive a harsh rebuke for his behavior toward the alleged victim R., a subordinate female employee at the PMO, and for conducting himself in a matter that is unbecoming of a public employee.
Netanyahu told his three subordinates that he disapproves of their handling of the affair. “I am disappointed in you for not sharing the information with me; you kept this a secret for a month and a half without informing me? Do I have to learn of such developments from the media? You should have approached me first. I would have surely acted like you did, as is required by law, and approached the attorney-general; I would expect you - who sit at the helm of the PMO - to keep me informed of the events taking place around me. Media reports that suggest your preferred course of action was designed to protect me are unconvincing, because it is inconceivable that you did know how I would react once the information got to me,” Netanyahu told them.
Hendel announced his resignation following the conversation, although as of Tuesday the PMO’s spokesperson did not confirm Hendel’s pending departure or even that he had tendered a resignation letter. Appointed as Netanyahu’s fourth National Information Directorate chief since 2009, Hendel has been on the job for a mere five months.
Hauser on Tuesday denied reports that he is likely to step down as well, although high-ranking political sources indicated Wednesday that he was expected to leave his post soon. Locker’s term as military secretary ends in about two months.
Eshel will be replaced by Gil Sheffer, currently the PMO director.
The PMO reshuffle takes place just a week and a half before the prime minister leaves for an overseas trip to Washington where he will meet U.S. President Barack Obama for talks on Iran’s nuclear program. A top political source said Tuesday that the changes will “obviously affect the prime minister and his people; we are, after all, talking about people and inter-personal relations. Having said that, professional matters continue to be handled without a hitch.”
At the start of Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu could be seen scolding Hauser for failing to comply with his request to close the door to the room, highlighting just how strained relations may be between the two. The footage clearly shows Netanyahu annoyed by Hauser’s inaction, telling him, “I asked for this before, just do it. That’s all.”
Labor Chairwoman MK Shelly Yachimovich attacked Netanyahu on Tuesday, saying his “humiliating and brutal behavior toward the cabinet secretary as seen on Channel 2, just moments after Eshel’s departure from the civil service was announced, is unacceptable and should be condemned.”