Bennett wins defamation suit against rabbi who claimed he wasn’t Jewish

Rabbi Ronen Shaulov apologizes for false claims about ex-PM and his parents; court to decide at future date on damages, which Bennett has said he’ll donate

Then-alternate prime minister Naftali Bennett at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2022. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)
Then-alternate prime minister Naftali Bennett at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2022. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)

Former prime minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday won a defamation lawsuit against a rabbi who claimed that he and his parents, Myrna and Jim, were not Jewish.

Bennett filed the suit last year after Rabbi Ronen Shaulov had falsely claimed his mother underwent a Reform conversion in the US, said he “sold out the country” to non-Jews and that he was “worse than a dog,” who is at least loyal.

Following the court verdict, Shaulov issued a statement apologizing for the comments and how widely they spread, and admitting that he now knew them to be false.

“I regret that I said these things and apologize from the bottom of my heart to the Bennett family for the heartache caused to them,” the rabbi said.

The damages to be paid by Shaulov are slated to be decided by the court at a future date. Bennett has previously stated that he intends to donate any proceeds to charity.

“The truth has won,” Bennett said in a statement reacting to the decision. “I was not defending my honor, but was defending the honor of my parents and the truth.”

The former premier’s legal team said the verdict “sends a clear message of [the court’s] unwillingness to put up with the spread of lies.”

Screen capture from video of Rabbi Ronen Shaulov. (YouTube. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The lawsuit claimed that 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.

The suit had noted that users who conduct a Google search for Bennett’s mother are suggested by the algorithm to add the words “Christian” or “convert” to the search, indicating how widespread the claim became.

The lawsuit was one in a series that Bennett filed after leaving office, as part of what he labeled a campaign to “clean up the internet.”

In December, 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 of security at Bennett’s home in Ra’anana while he was premier.

In response, Malka vowed to fight Bennett in court and linked to a crowdfunding site to fund his legal defense.

The same month, 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 had 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.

Most Popular
read more: