It just goes to show you. It’s always something!
Those were the immortal words of Rosanna Rosannadana on Saturday Night Live decades ago. And they ring true for Israeli politics today. The Israeli headlines are full of a story claiming that Natan Eshel, Bibi’s chief of staff, was suspected of engaging in improper behavior towards a worker in the Prime Minister’s office. He examined SMS and e-mail messages in her cell phone, followed her movements outside work hours and generally intruded into her privacy.
The worker never complained, but three staff members, including Yochanan Locker, Bibi’s current favorite to become air force commander, did go to the civil service and registered a complaint on her behalf. That generated an automatic investigation. There is, at this point no accusation of any sort of sexual activity or impropriety of that sort.
UPDATE: Kol Yisrael is now reporting that Eshel took intimate photographs of Kidron without her knowledge or permission. Haaretz is reporting that the claims against Eshel so far are “the tip of the iceberg” and that his behavior skirted very close to outright sexual harrassment.
My confidential senior Israeli source claims Eshel was actually acting on behalf of Bibi’s erratic and somewhat unstable wife, Sara. She suspected that husband Bibi was having an affair with the worker, whose real name, Globes reported is Rivka Kidron (the accompanying photo is the only one I know of to feature Kidron and available publicly). Kidron is the former director of American Friends of Likud, a seasoned operative and political advisor to the PM for diaspora affairs. This would explain why she accompanies the PM on overseas trips. Haaretz reports that she got a divorce after she began working for Netanayhu in 2009. As part of her work assignment, she collaborated closely with Eshel and they developed a close relationship.
Sara tasked Eshel, with whom she’s had an exceedingly close relationship over years, with getting to the bottom of things. That’s why Eshel was checking up on the woman trying to determine where she was, hoping it wasn’t in the sack with the boss. Can you imagine being the PM’s top guy and being forced to make a choice between him and the wife? It puts you in an untenable situation. And why would he choose the wife over his own boss?
UPDATE II: This Haaretz story takes a somewhat different, and entirely plausible tack. It says that Sara Netanyahu indeed didn’t like Kidron and didn’t trust her and didn’t want her traveling abroad with the prime minister. But it goes on to say that Eshel insisted that she accompany the boss on these trips. The story doesn’t note any hint of a relationship with Bibi, but points much more strongly to an improper relationship between Eshel and Kidron.
In his Haaretz story, Yossi Verter also notes rather surprisingly that neither Bibi nor Sara care much what Eshel did. The latter is so much the indispensable man for them that they would, if they could, seal those who filed the complaint in a room “and hang them.” But alas, because of the nature of such matters, once a complaint is made the prime minister’s hands are tied. He may have no choice eventually but to accept Eshel’s resignation. Though it would also appear that the careers of those who complained may be short at Bibi’s side. Interestingly, one of the complainants was Yochanan Locker, Bibi’s chosen candidate for air force commander. One wonders how this “betrayal” of Eshel may play regarding his chances.
The Globes story claims that Eshel was jealous of a close relationship that Kidron had with another “senior” member in the PMO (if my source is correct then this individual would be Bibi himself). The invasion of her privacy began after she went on an overseas trip with this unnamed staffer. The publication also notes a tremendous level of jealousy among staffers over who gets face time with the boss and who gets to tag along on his overseas trips. It’s entirely possible that part of the jealousy is that of the aggrieved spouse, Sara, who feels burned by the closeness of an attractive female staffer to her husband and the fact that the former gets to travel with him abroad.
Israel and Israeli politics is sometimes one big soap opera. One moment life and death decisions regarding war with Iran. The next the paranoid suspicions of the prime minister’s troubled wife. Not that we should assume Sara is wrong. Though Bibi hasn’t been known particularly as a womanizer before this, one never underestimates the ability of male Israeli pols for putting their feet in their mouths and other parts of their body in places they don’t belong. There seems to be a sense of entitlement that powerful Israeli men feel regarding women. So we’ll have to wait to determine whether there is any truth to Sara’s fears.
So far, though many Israeli journalists undoubtedly know the outlines of this story, few have done anything other than offer the barest outlines. Perhaps this reporting may embolden them to go farther.
Raviv Drucker, in a TV interview about this report notes that it was Eshel who offered Channel 10 its life if it would agree to fire the uppity Drucker, who’d just aired his Bibitours expose concerning 30 violations of Knesset ethics rules during overseas travel by Bibi and guess who, the imperious Sara. Just days ago, a compromise was worked out sparing the TV channel certain death. Another threat to freedom of the press averted, but just barely.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.