Former prime minister Naftali Bennett filed a NIS 1 million (over $292,000) defamation lawsuit on Tuesday against a rabbi who falsely claimed that Bennett’s parents, Myrna and Jim, were not Jewish.
The lawsuit filed by Bennett claims that Rabbi Ronen Shaulov’s defamatory accusations and “appalling epithets and curses” were seen by at least 700,000 people. Shaulov has more than 150,000 followers across various social media platforms.
Bennett pointed out that users who conduct a Google search for his mother are suggested by the algorithm to add the words “Christian” or “convert” to the search, indicating how widespread the claim became. Shaulov’s lie about Bennett’s parents “took deep hold” among a significant segment of the population, the lawsuit claims.
In repeated “sermons” posted online by Shaulov, he falsely claimed that Bennett’s mother underwent a Reform conversion in the US, said that Bennett “sold out the country” to non-Jews and that he is “worse than a dog,” who is at least loyal.
According to a statement from Bennett, his mother, Myrna — both of whose parents come from generations of Jews, some of whom “were murdered in the Holocaust for being Jewish” — received “many inquiries over the past year in regard to doubts about her Judaism.”
Such questions “brought her great pain and sadness,” Bennett added. The former prime minister stated that he opted against pursuing any defamation suits while still in office, but now feels an obligation to counter “the spread of lies that poison public discourse.”
Bennett noted that any damages he receives from the lawsuit will be donated to organizations that assist the families of fallen IDF soldiers.
Tuesday’s lawsuit is one in a series that Bennett has filed in recent days as part of what he has labeled a campaign to “clean up the internet.”
On Monday, Bennett filed a NIS 500,000 ($146,000) defamation lawsuit against activist Igal Malka for repeatedly alleging that the former prime minister personally pocketed NIS 50 million ($14.6 million) in public funds. The amount is a reference to the cost to provide security at Bennett’s home in Ra’anana while he was premier.
In response, Malka vowed to fight Bennett in court, and also linked to a crowdfunding site to fund his legal defense.
Last week, Bennett sent a letter to journalist Yair Levy of the ultra-Orthodox Behadrei Haredim news site, threatening to sue him over a tweet falsely claiming that Bennett used public funds to refurbish his private home in Ra’anana.
In response, Levy chose to delete the original tweet and apologize for the claim, noting that the photo he posted of purported renovations at Bennett’s home was inaccurate. As part of the agreement between the two, Levy also paid NIS 10,000 ($2,900) in damages to Bennett.