Israeli official accused of sex harassment


JERUSALEM, March 7 (JTA) — A senior member of the Israeli government has announced he is taking a leave of absence while police investigate allegations he sexually harassed a female employee in his office.

“These things never happened,” Transportation Minister Yitzhak Mordechai said in a statement Tuesday, adding he is taking the leave so the police can conduct an “effective investigation to reach the truth.”

The Israeli daily Yediot Achronot broke the story Tuesday, when the Knesset held a special session to mark International Women’s Day.

The newspaper report, which did not name the minister, said the alleged harassment began several months ago.

Within hours, several Israeli Internet sites were naming Mordechai.

The 23-year-old employee, whose name was not released, alleged that in one instance, Mordechai pulled her onto a sofa in his office and put his hand under her blouse.

She claimed that this was not the only time that Mordechai subjected her to such harassment.

The worker sought advice from Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg and Meretz legislator Zahava Gal-On on how to deal with the situation.

Burg said he and Gal-On urged the worker to file a complaint with the police, which she did on Monday.

Mordechai is taking the leave as Prime Minister Ehud Barak is trying to assemble support in his divisive coalition and in the Knesset for his peace moves with the Palestinians and Syria.

A former general, Mordechai is considered a political moderate.

He also served on a recently formed committee, along with Barak and Foreign Minister David Levy, to decide on the scope of Israel’s response to Hezbollah attacks in southern Lebanon.

Mordechai served as defense minister in the previous Likud-led government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

He resigned in January 1999 over disagreements with Netanyahu.

In last year’s elections, Mordechai ran for prime minister as head of the then newly formed Center Party.

On the eve of the elections, he pulled out of the race and endorsed Barak.

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