Tragedy of tourism PR employee

By Nathan Jeffay, March 1, 2012
Rafi Shalev

Rafi Shalev

Two months after an employee at Israel's tourism office in London committed suicide, it has emerged that she had claimed to be the victim of sexual harassment by a superior, and faced redundancy.

Melissa Ramsden, public relations manager at the Israel Government Tourist Office, was found dead in her Maida Vale home in December. This week, Oren Drori, deputy director of marketing at the Tourism Ministry in Jerusalem, spoke of her allegations against her boss, Rafi Shalev.

However, he cautioned against assuming that her work-place problems caused her suicide, saying: "We don't know and it's not our job to link the suicide to this issue of Rafi and sexual harassment - it may be and may not be [connected]; we don't know."

He added that the accusation of sexual harassment is still under investigation. Mr Shalev denies the allegations.

Mr Drori said that Ms Ramsden had approached him in 2010 complaining of friction with Mr Shalev, the head of the London office. He mediated between the two, and believed that relations had improved.

Ministry and Civil Service at odds over handling of affair

However, on August 25 2011, she contacted Mr Drori again, and this time alleged sexual harassment by Mr Shalev - an accusation that Mr Shalev denies. By this time, she was facing redundancy, having been informed on August 1 that her work-load was to be passed to a PR agency, Hills Balfour.

When the ministry received her sexual harassment claims, it put a hold on her redundancy for the course of the investigation and, in October, Mr Drori came to London to investigate the accusations and meet Ms Ramsden. He then passed his findings to the Civil Service Commission.

But since Ms Ramsden's tragic death, friction has emerged between the ministry and the commission regarding the handling of Ms Ramsden's case.

Last Friday, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz published a letter sent by the commission to the ministry, which queries whether Mr Drori knew of sexual harassment "suspicions" before August and failed to act on them. The ministry's conduct, according to the published version of the letter, was deemed "not in accordance with the requirements stipulated in the relevant codes."

Mr Drori rejected this version of events, saying there was no indication of sexual harassment before August, and criticises the commission.

"The fact of the matter is they [the commission] didn't do anything for two months, except ask her for another complaint," he said.

There is, however, one matter on which the commission and the ministry agree: that Mr Shalev will return to Israel.

The commission wrote: "It seems that there is cause to return this worker to Israel sooner than planned." Mr Drori said that Mr Shalev would return from London this summer.

Mr Drori said he thought Mr Shalev had been a challenging employee. He referred in particular to an incident in 2009 when guests at a travel convention were handed a goodie bag containing condoms with the slogan "come to Israel and be satisfied".

Last updated: 4:39pm, March 1 2012