Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday hailed his victory over the “never-ending persecution” against him and his family, after winning a libel case against a journalist.
“Truth and justice won today against the never-ending persecution against me, my wife and my family that has been going on for more than 20 years,” he wrote on a Facebook post.
The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court ordered journalist Igal Sarna to pay NIS 100,000 ($28,300) to Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.
The Netanyahus last year filed a defamation suit against Sarna after he alleged in a Facebook post that Sara had stopped the prime minister’s convoy on a major highway and kicked her husband out on the side of the road.
“If we were to sue everyone who libels us we would be in court every single day,” the prime minister said, “but I have a country to run, and my wife is involved in public activities and works as an educational psychologist for the Jerusalem municipality.”
The prime minister said that Sarna’s post was just one example of the falsehoods put out about him and his family.
“In one of the few cases in which we found the time to defend our good name and file a lawsuit against yet another lie against us, the court exposed the method and ruled in favor of the truth,” Netanyahu wrote. “Truth won today, and it will continue to do so forever!”
In his ruling, Judge Azaria Alcalay said he agreed with the Netanyahus that “the publication was, at least partially, malicious and ugly, intended to humiliate and shame the plaintiffs.”
Sarna, a journalist for the Yedioth Ahronoth daily — known for being critical of Netanyahu — did not cite a source for his allegations, and his account never appeared in the paper.
Alcalay said the fact that Sarna did not try to corroborate the account was irresponsible and he did not buy into the argument that Facebook posts should not be held to the same standards as accounts published by established news organizations.
“It is very important that as much as possible people internalize that they cannot publish everything they want, especially if it is untrue and defamatory,” he wrote in the decision.
Sarna vowed to appeal.
“This kind of verdict is expected in these dark days. But it is only the beginning of the struggle against the attempt to silence,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
The ruling awarded NIS 60,000 to Benjamin Netanyahu, NIS 40,000 to Sara Netanyahu and another NIS 15,000 in legal fees.
The couple had demanded NIS 279,243 ($72,813) from Sarna over his claims in the libel suit at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court. The reason for that specific amount was never made clear.
While the verdict said the account had hurt the Netanyahus’ public standing, it awarded the prime minister less than asked for because it did not “reach the highest threshold of severity.”
Alcalay added that the damage to Sara Netanyahu was smaller than that suffered by her husband in explaining why she was awarded less.
In the lawsuit, the Netanyahus had claimed that Sarna, who is known for his strident attacks against them on Facebook, “has been carrying on for quite some time with his obsessive attempts to harm the complainants at any cost and to trample their good name out of sheer malice and bad intent.”
The soap opera trial even featured a testimony in March by the prime minister, who called the post a “vulgar lie… that led me here (to testify).”
Also appearing in court that day with her husband, Sara Netanyahu told reporters, “I am here because I am looking for the truth.”
“If I had to sue over all the lies against me during the last 20 years, I would have spent all my days in court,” she added.
But she highlighted Sarna’s claim among the “very bad lies.”
Sarna has also emerged as one of the figures in Case 2000, one of the two corruption investigations into Netanyahu.
The case revolves around allegations that Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes attempted to reach a deal whereby the daily would take a more favorable stance toward the prime minister in exchange for the advancement of a bill that would force free daily Israel Hayom, seen as a pro-Netanyahu rival to Yedioth, to contract or disband.
In secretly recorded conversations between the two, Mozes can be heard telling Netanyahu he would be willing to fire Sarna, who sits on the Yedioth editorial board, as a gesture of goodwill.