Source: Jerusalem Post
Monday, November 21, 2022
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu won his defamation lawsuit against former prime minister Ehud Olmert in one of two counts on Monday, according to the ruling by Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Deputy President Amit Yariv.
Yariv found that Olmert’s claim that essentially said that the Netanyahus are crazy was too close to sounding like he was describing a medical fact whereas he had no clear basis for attacking the Netanyahus in this way, other than hearsay.
The court fined Olmert NIS 20,000 regarding Netanyahu himself, NIS 35,000 regarding Sarah and NIS 7,500 regarding Yair - the low amount being connected to his attacks on others. Further, Yariv granted NIS 35,000 against Olmert and in favor of Netanyahu for court and legal costs.
The court said that the law balances free speech which is the free market of ideas and an individual's right to protect their reputation.
Free speech also protects a person's ability to direct criticism on public figures, including on issues in controversy, said Yariv.
But all people also have a right to their reputation being defended since, Yariv said, damage to a person's reputation can harm them socially and economically.
Yariv wrote that even if a comment is defamatory, it can be found to be true, or someone can say that someone just gave their personal opinion, which is another defense.
The court found that it was problematic for Olmert, in one of his two statements, to use the idea that members of the Netanyahu family were hospitalized for emotional difficulties to frame them as mentally unstable.
The judge said that this could lead to harm to a broad slice of the population who is generally stable, but sometimes has mental issues temporarily.
Moreover, the court said that Olmert did not bring sufficient evidence to prove the truth of his claim against the Netanyahus even if he had hearsay-type statements in support.
Yariv was especially disturbed that the manner in which Olmert used his phraseology, saying the Netanyahus were mentally unfit, was said purposely to sound more like a professional view, even if he is not an expert in mental fitness.
That said, regarding damages, the court found that Olmert was expressing political opinions against the Netanyahus and not to damage them as individuals.
However, the court said that family members of a public figure deserve higher damages usually than the public figure.
At the same time, the court added that Olmert showed Yair Netanyahu had attacked many public figures as crazy.
NIS 225,000 would have been the maximum amount that the court could have fined Olmert, broken down as NIS 75,000 per person.
The low amount of damages was a nod toward Olmert regarding the Netanyahus being public figures, his attack on them being against them ideologically and regarding Yair Netanyahu being someone who aggressively attacks others on Twitter.
"It's good to know that even in an insane and crazy world that we're used to it being permitted to spread any offensive lie against Prime Minister Netanyahu, his wife and his family," said Netanyahu family lawyer Yossi Cohen. "Today have been established clear and exact limits that put an end to Olmert's evil lie."
In June, Netanyahu testified saying, "I have no psychiatric history" in a thundering rejection of allegations by Olmert that he and his family have had mental illnesses.
Over the course of the day, Netanyahu, Sarah Netanyahu and Yair Netanyahu all fought back voraciously against a series of reports and allegations that Olmer's lawyer Amir Tytunovich threw in their direction.
At some point, Tytunovich played an interview with former prime minister Ariel Sharon saying that Netanyahu always looked like he was bordering on falling apart under pressure and was liable to sudden bouts of panic.
He then played an interview with Netanyahu’s long-time lawyer Jacob Weinroth saying that Netanyahu was unstable and that sometimes Weinroth served him as a dual lawyer-psychologist.
Netanyahu said that Weinroth had apologized to him for the interview he gave and had said he had been fooled into saying things in a way that he did not intend – though the former prime minister could not explain why Weinroth did not publish a public retraction.
At the time, Netanyahu and Sarah were both trying to shoot down reports that she was hospitalized for mental issues in Austria in March 2020.
A strange twist happened when Sarah said she had never heard of the report before the current defamation case, whereas Tytunovich showed that the family spokesman, Ofer Golan, had responded to the report in real-time, even if dismissively.
The court also heard recordings of Sarah screaming hysterically at people, to which Sarah said that someone had edited the recordings somehow to make her sound crazy.
Further, Tytunovich read from an Israeli labor court ruling declaring that Sarah had emotionally abused an employee in the prime minister’s residence and then lied about it in court.
Sarah could not contain herself and essentially said that the particular judge had been manipulated into believing a false story put together to harm her and her husband’s image.
Yair and his parents also denied allegations that he had mental issues, including sometimes going on hunger strikes.
Netanyahu has argued that standard defamation law requires Olmert to prove his claims about the Netanyahus that was based only on what he knew at the time he made those claims, and no on acquiring new information from the Netanyahus.
He even noted that at a prior court hearing, the court tried to convince Olmert to drop his defense that what he had claimed was true and focus on a defense that he was only expressing a political opinion and not trying to state facts.
The trial opened on January 10 including NIS 837,000 of alleged damages for statements against the Netanyahus' mental health in two April 2021 interviews.
Olmert’s lawyer also asked if any of the Netanyahus or their messengers ever attacked others as mentally ill (Yair is known for a highly aggressive style on Twitter) verbally or on social media.
They parried these questions, saying their attacks used more standard metaphors and fewer statements that sounded like an actual clinical evaluation.
One of Olmert’s interviews was on April 12, 2021 to Democrat TV and the second interview was on April 21, 2021 on the Ophira and Berkowitz TV program.
During the first interview, Olmert called the Netanyahu family "mentally ill" and said that they need to be forcibly committed to a psych ward.
Within days, the Netanyahus had threatened to sue Olmert for NIS 1 million if he did not retract his statement.
In contrast, during the second interview, Olmert doubled down on his characterization of the Netanyahu family, explicitly refused to retract and laughed when one of his interviewers warned him he might be losing NIS 1 million.