Hours after he won his lawsuit claiming hostile work conditions created by the wife of the prime minister, Meni Naftali, the former house manager at the prime minister’s residence, called a press conference Feb. 10. What he said was no less important than the court’s verdict: “There are many more things I didn’t reveal. Very serious things that harmed the functioning [of the prime minister] … the prime minister knows about it all.”
The court’s reverberating verdict read in part, “The examination of the evidence presented before us shows a very grim picture of what occurs at the prime minister’s residence in all that relates to the conditions of employment, the work environment they are exposed to, their treatment and the safeguarding of their honor and their rights.” At the center of the verdict by Judge Dita Pruginin is Sara Netanyahu, who managed the workers at the Jerusalem residence. But the public debate should also focus on the responsibility of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the affair. Since the prime minister lives in the same house and is exposed to the behavior of his wife, he should also be seen as a partner to the humiliating treatment of workers — even if he didn’t yell at them or abuse them directly.
Naftali’s lawsuit concerns the period when he served as the house manager of the official residence, between 2011 and 2012. Beyond his personal victory and the decision that the state would compensate him 170,000 shekels ($43,000) for his experience, for the first time the verdict gives a legal stamp to the many complaints of humiliating and abusive treatment at the prime minister’s residence. In this sense, the ruling is a public triumph. For years the prime minister and his wife have succeeded, by means of a well-oiled machine of lawyers and public relations staff, to defame former workers who voiced such complaints. The court’s verdict, reached thanks to Naftali’s stubbornness and courage, provides the public with a ruling from an objective source that the complaints were right, and paints, for the first time, a clear and credible picture of affairs at the prime minister’s residence.
The judge determined that Sara Netanyahu is directly responsible for hurting employees. The court’s verdict describes an angry outburst that she channeled into abuse of residence employees. Netanyahu demanded that several workers reset a table for lunch at the home’s garden, claiming that a canopy raised above the table caused the food to get dirty. Her son Avner heard her demand and commented that there was no need to redo the work. Sara Netanyahu’s response was harsh: She pulled the tablecloth from the table and the dishes and food still on it fell on the floor. Afterward, she instructed employees to pick up everything that fell and reset the table within five minutes, and they did so.
We can safely assume that just as Avner was present for this situation, the prime minister was also exposed to several incidents of hurtful treatment of workers, and he therefore shares responsibility for these acts. The public should take this into consideration.
The court rejected Sara Netanyahu’s claims that the work environment is unique and therefore her strict rules for workers should be acceptable. The verdict found, “The fact that the prime minister’s residence is a unique work environment does not justify hurtful employment conditions, where workers are helpless and are forced to work very long hours, where they are exposed to outrageous demands, insults and outbursts of anger.”
Even this sharp and unequivocal legal ruling has not changed the Netanyahus' approach to this affair. In their response to the verdict, they continued to attack former residence employees and defame the court, saying, “It is regrettable that even though the court rejected 90% of Meni Naftali’s monetary claims, the court elected to devote a significant portion of its ruling to Mrs. Netanyahu, who was not a side in the case. Naftali did not sue Mrs. Netanyahu; he sued the State of Israel, and thereby [the ruling] slandered and discredited the wife of the prime minister.”
This isn’t the first time that responses from the Netanyahu family regarding Sara’s problematic behavior patterns, including her profligate spending, have been emotional and sought to portray her as a victim. More than once, Netanyahu has asked the media to stop criticizing his wife. “Aim your fire at me — leave my wife and children alone,” he said in interviews in January 2010, when the affair of housekeeper Lilian Peretz came out. Peretz also claimed abuse by the first lady. But the truth is that besides these vague requests, Netanyahu has not spoken seriously about the numerous complaints raised by his household employees. It seems that he prefers to distance himself from the line of fire and from responsibility and let his wife absorb the criticism.
Thus, following the verdict in favor of Naftali, it seems it’s time to accept the prime minister’s request and leave his family alone. Naftali himself has broadly hinted that Netanyahu knew very well about what was happening in his home, and that his wife’s behavior has harmed his functioning as prime minister. He even promised to reveal more about it in the future. Therefore, besides the huge triumph in which the lone citizen claimed victory over a vicious system, the labor court’s verdict is also an opportunity to ask Netanyahu some tough questions. While he isn’t a party to the lawsuit, he must answer to the public regarding the way that his household treats the people who cook, launder and clean for him.
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