Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara tried to physically assault the director general of the Prime Minister’s Office in an altercation in January, forcing him to hold her off until another official separated them, sources in the office said.
The director general, U.S.-born Eli Groner, denied that the scuffle took place.
The sources said the run-in was over who should cover expenses at the Netanyahus’ private home in Caesarea; Groner announced his resignation earlier this week in part because of the issue.
But Groner said in a statement that the allegation was “more fables Sarna-style,” referring to Igal Sarna, a journalist who lost a libel claim by the prime minister last year.
Since his appointment as director general in 2015, Groner has clashed with Sara Netanyahu over funding for the Caesarea home. Netanyahu has yet to name a successor for Groner, who will be leaving in July.
The prime minister thanked him for his “dedicated work in advancing subjects of great importance in economics and society.”
According to the sources, on January 13, Sara Netanyahu sought financing to renovate the Caesarea home, but Groner refused. When she came in person to the Prime Minister’s Office, she approached a senior official, the two went together to visit Groner, and the altercation took place.
According to the sources, Groner then considered resigning immediately and talked it over with Yoav Horowitz, Netanyahu’s chief of staff, who said he would tell the prime minister what happened. Horowitz promised that the prime minister would take action to ensure that such an incident never happened again.
But the sources said the prime minister has not spoken with Groner about the matter.
Groner has been quoted as saying he could not agree to all of Sara Netanyahu’s requests and he would not “go to prison for her.” Sara Netanyahu reportedly later responded, “Because of us? People are sitting in prison because of us?” She says Groner is sluggish in handling her demands regarding the house.
Sources at the office said she urged Netanyahu to fire Groner several times, but the prime minister refused.
A few days after the alleged incident, the Netanyahus left for a state visit to India. Israeli journalist Ben Caspit reported that Groner did not join the prime minister’s plane but arrived the following day on a commercial flight; sources said the reason was the incident. Groner returned to Israel on the same plane with the Netanyahus and the rest of the delegation.
Last month on the Kan public broadcaster, journalist Shaul Amsterdamski revealed minutes of the special committee that discussed approving renovations to the Caesarea home. The committee consisted of Groner, Michal Abadi-Boiangiu — a former the accountant general at the Finance Ministry — and the legal counsel to the Prime Minister’s Office, Shlomit Barnea-Farago.
They discussed the family’s requests including replacing ficus trees, fixing flooring that the trees had damaged, replacing cushions on garden furniture, and smoothing out a table.
Groner is a former economic attaché to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, where he met Ron Dermer, who he introduced to Netanyahu. Dermer is now ambassador.
Before that Groner held a number of positions in business, including at the McKinsey & Company management consulting firm.