Court rejects journalist’s appeal against NIS 100,000 libel award to Netanyahus
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Court rejects journalist’s appeal against NIS 100,000 libel award to Netanyahus

Igal Sarna failed to show that lawsuit by prime minister and his wife aimed solely to silence him, or that the marital spat he reported ever happened

Journalist Igal Sarna seen at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court for a hearing in a libel case against him submitted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, March 14, 2017. (Gideon Markowicz/POOL)
Journalist Igal Sarna seen at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court for a hearing in a libel case against him submitted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, March 14, 2017. (Gideon Markowicz/POOL)

The Tel Aviv District Court on Sunday rejected an appeal by a journalist against the NIS 100,000 ($28,300) in compensation he was ordered to pay Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara after losing a libel lawsuit.

The Netanyahus filed a defamation suit against Igal Sarna in 2016 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 of the car on the side of the road. In June 2017 the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court ordered Sarna to pay compensation to the Netanyahus.

In its decision Sunday, the court rejected Sarna’s claim that the libel lawsuit was a strategic attempt to silence critics by overwhelming them with legal fees needed for their defense until they withdraw their comments.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his wife Sara pose for a photograph at the Taj Mahal in the Indian city of Agra on January 16, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / STR)

Sarna was also ordered to pay an additional NIS 20,000 in court fees racked up during the appeal.

The court found that the libel suit was not directed at any comments Sarna made before or after the post, but dealt specifically with his Facebook post. In addition, the court noted that Sarna failed to prove that the incident, or anything similar, had ever happened.

Illustrative photo of the prime minister’s convoy of cars, March 15, 2006. (Flash90)

At the time of the Facebook post Sarna, a journalist for the Yedioth Ahronoth daily — known for being critical of Netanyahu — did not cite a source for his allegations about the highway fight, and his account never appeared in the paper.

The initial libel 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. 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.”

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