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Court drops libel verdict against Yair Netanyahu; case to continue

PM’s son had been ordered to pay plaintiff NIS $500,000 after failing to respond to complaint, but judge says his claim that he never received it is plausible

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's eldest son Yair Netanyahu is seen at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on June 5, 2018. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's eldest son Yair Netanyahu is seen at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on June 5, 2018. (Flash90)

The Kfar Saba Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday overturned a ruling that ordered the prime minister’s son, Yair Netanyahu, to pay a plaintiff half a million shekels ($154,000) in a libel suit, after Netanyahu failed to defend himself to the court.

Judge Ronen Peleg accepted Netanyahu’s appeal in which he claimed to have never received the notice against him. The case will now continue to be heard.

Netanyahu was sued by Dana Cassidy last year after he posted her photo and details online, leading to harassment by supporters of the Netanyahu family.

The photo was a selfie Cassidy had taken with Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz. Alongside it, Netanyahu wrote, “Does anyone know who this is?” He did so after posting unsubstantiated allegations about affairs Gantz had supposedly had.

A pro-Likud Twitter account posted the image of Cassidy with Gantz, with the superimposed caption: “He invited me for tea and it turned me on.” Cassidy said she never wrote anything of the sort.

The posts led to Cassidy suffering online harassment and claims of her supposed sexual exploits with Gantz. She then sued Netanyahu for libel.

“It is not impossible that the document never reached [Netanyahu] for all sorts of reasons, whether due to a fault by the staff at the Prime Minister’s Residence or due to a fault of [his] own,” Peleg wrote in his ruling — despite the fact that the Prime Minister’s Residence authorized having received the letter from Dana Cassidy’s lawyer. Moreover, Netanyahu tweeted after the suit was publicized that the claims against him were “ridiculous, delusional and baseless,” indicating awareness of the case’s existence.

Cassidy, an animal rights activist, took the photo with Gantz when he visited the farm where she works alongside Blue and White MK Miki Haimovitch.

Cassidy said the reactions to Netanyahu’s post on social media were a form of “mass sexual harassment,” with posters making numerous sexual references to her and her supposed relationship with Gantz.

She said she was later inundated with “a flood” of calls from the media asking her for comment on her purported affair with the politician.

“Smart guy, Yair Netanyahu,” she wrote on Facebook. “He knows the job. He knows he doesn’t need to do much. He can make one post about ‘Benny Gantz’s lovers.’ Then he’ll make another post, with the photo of an anonymous girl… and he won’t write much. He’ll just ask who it is. And that’s it. His supporters will take it from there. His attack dogs will charge. They know the job.”

Last month, the Kfar Saba Magistrate’s Court ordered Netanyahu to pay Cassidy NIS 500,000 after Netanyahu failed to issue a letter of defense to the complaint against him.

In scrapping that verdict against him on Wednesday, Peleg instead ordered Netanyahu to pay Cassidy NIS 4,500 ($1,384) to cover defense fees.

The court will now continue to review the original libel case against Netanyahu,

Netanyahu had appeared in court just 48 hours earlier in another libel case against him and was seen going on the attack against what he described as his “vile leftist” detractors, with ferocious and seemingly slanderous testimony at times.

At the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Monday, the younger Netanyahu railed against the left-wing think tank Molad, which is accusing him of libel, and a range of other left-wing groups and individuals who have been critical of him or his father.

Yair Netanyahu, son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives for a court hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court in Tel Aviv on March 10, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The case originated four years ago when Molad wrote an unflattering Facebook post about the premier’s son, entitled “Five things you did not know about Yair Netanyahu.” Netanyahu called the group “radical” and “anti-Zionist,” leading to a libel suit by Molad and a counter-suit by Netanyahu.

After repeated efforts by Judge Hanna Klugman to settle the case outside of the courtroom, Monday’s hearing came as both sides stuck to their litigation suits, each accusing the other of defamation.

Making use of the fact that he cannot be sued for libel for anything said during court testimony, Netanyahu made repeated unfounded claims against Molad and other left-wing groups and individuals, defending his “freedom of expression” to insult and abuse on social media.

Yair Netanyahu has a history of posting incendiary messages on social media and tweets fast and often against those he believes have wronged him and his family.

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