Eshel affair will fade, but larger questions remain (JERUSALEM POST) By HERB KEINON 02/20/12)
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Sunday’s announcement that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s close
confidant and powerful chief of staff, Natan Eshel, agreed to a plea
bargain and will leave office next week will considerably reduce the
media focus on a number of uncomfortable questions raised by the
For example, since Eshel admitted to unbecoming behavior in his
relationship with “R.,” one of his subordinates, and lost his job
over that behavior, questions about why exactly he was looking into
her email inbox, why he followed her or why he took unusual photos of
the young woman will naturally fade away.
Likewise, there will be much less interest in why R. adamantly
refused to complain or press charges.
But what won’t disappear is the greater question the whole affair
raises: What does it say about the day-to- day workings inside the
Prime Minister’s Office?
Ministry spokesmen will say, not without some justification, that
this type of thing happens in offices all over the country. This is
not the first time a boss has gone overboard in his relationship with
a subordinate, or taken liberties – even if not sexual in nature –
with someone who works under him.
But this is not just any office, Eshel was not just any boss, and
these are not just any times.
Eshel, who has been serving at Netanyahu’s discretion, is one of the
most powerful men in the country by virtue of his position. In
addition to serving as Netanyahu’s key political adviser, he also
controls the prime minister’s daily agenda, decides where he will
appear and speak, and determines who will – and who will not – merit
face time with the leader, and in what order.
Plus, Eshel had the complete trust and confidence of the Netanyahu
family – something that placed him almost in a league of his own
inside the Prime Minister’s Office.
Even with all this power, Eshel never really came under public
scrutiny. He gave almost no interviews, and many in the country
probably did not even recognize his name when the affair first broke
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein praised the three senior advisers
in the Prime Minister’s Office who came forward with complaints
against Eshel – communications director Yoaz Hendel, cabinet
secretary Tzvi Hauser and military attaché Maj.-Gen. Yohanan Locker –
saying they acted appropriately.
Yet despite Weinstein’s praise, the three men – all holding crucial
positions – have to be asking themselves now how secure their own
jobs are since their complaints led to the downfall of a trusted
confidant of the Netanyahu family.
But is this really the time the prime minister wants to conduct a
major overhaul in his office? At a time when the diplomatic process
with the Palestinians is stagnating, the region is in turmoil and –
most importantly – the government is facing the existential question
of whether or not to attack Iran, the country needs a prime minister
who is well focused and not worried about the administration of his
Netanyahu needs the peace and quiet essential for dealing with the
big issues, and cannot be diverted by his right-hand man’s
Any office would be reeling from a trauma that hits the most senior
levels, and certainly the Prime Minister’s Office is not immune.
This type of intrigue and politics obviously casts a shadow and
leaves scars, and it is coming at a most inopportune moment for the
At a time like this, the prime minister needs an inner circle he can
trust, one that works harmoniously.
The last thing he needs is to sweat the small stuff.
So even though Eshel is going, and even though the story will now
fade away, the more important question remains: Who will replace him
and can that individual put Netanyahu’s office in order so the prime
minister can focus on running the country, not minding the staff? (©
1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 02/20/12)
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