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Court rejects Yair Netanyahu’s appeal to cancel libel verdict against him

Ex-prime minister’s son ordered to pay compensation to journalist, cover court fees; judge dismisses claim he never received lawsuit letter delivered to PM’s official residence

Yair Netanyahu, son of then-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)
Yair Netanyahu, son of then-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)

Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Monday rejected an appeal by Yair Netanyahu, the son of the former prime minister, to overturn a libel decision against him, ordering him to pay hundreds of thousands of shekels in compensation and cover the court fees.

Netanyahu had claimed the original ruling against him was in bad faith as he never received court notification about the libel lawsuit filed by former Walla news site editor Avi Alkalay.

Netanyahu was at the time living with his parents at the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem rather than in the family apartment in the capital or their Caesarea home. Though the letter was sent to the official residence, it was not ultimately delivered to Netanyahu, allegedly due to protocols against staff accepting registered letters at the site.

Because Netanyahu never filed a statement of defense, the court had automatically ruled in favor of Alkalay.

However, Judge Kohava Levy dismissed Netanyahu’s argument saying the registered letter was sent to the correct location under the circumstances and told the former premier’s son to compensate Alkalay NIS 250,000 (approximately $76,500), and pay an additional NIS 29,250 (approximately $9,000) in court fees.

Netanyahu’s attorney Yossi Cohen had argued that delivery of the registered letter to the Prime Minister’s Residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street was not completed as it was not signed for. He claimed that no one at the residence is authorized to sign for registered letters and that any such communication must be sent to the Prime Minister’s Office.

In her decision,  Levy noted that Netanyahu, 29, is listed by the Interior Ministry as living at the official residence and, given that he is “an adult living with his parents in the prime minister’s residence” it was the correct place to send the letter.

A statement on behalf of Netanyahu said that the court “ignored facts and the law” by not taking into account that the letter never reached its intended recipient.

Netanyahu said he will appeal the latest decision.

Last March, the court ordered Netanyahu to pay Alkalay, a witness in the most serious of the three corruption cases against the prime minister, over posts the younger Netanyahu shared on social media claiming the editor was “a mole” working with the state prosecution against his father.

Alkalay had sued the son of the then-prime minister for sharing a post on social media that called the journalist a “planted mole from the Wexner Foundation” — a group that the Netanyahu family accuses of funding left-wing organizations and campaigns — and that alleged he was in cahoots with the state prosecution against the then-premier.

Netanyahu is no stranger to libel lawsuits and legal threats. He 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and son Yair in Tel Aviv, January 23, 2020. (Aleksey Nikolskyi/Sputnik Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

In 2019, he won a libel lawsuit against Labor party activist Abie Binyamin, who had accused him of using a fake Mossad-issued passport to hide millions overseas. Netanyahu sued Binyamin for NIS 140,000 ($37,000) in damages over the 2017 Facebook post that claimed the then-premier had asked the secret service to issue his son a passport under a different name, which he then used to hide money offshore.

Alkalay is a witness in what is dubbed Case 4000 which involves suspicions that Netanyahu granted regulatory favors benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecoms, in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister and his family from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site.

The prime minister is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three cases. He denies any wrongdoing.

Though ousted from office, now opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to vacate the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem; he and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett agreed that he will leave by July 10.

Bennett intends to spend four nights a week at the residence, and the weekends at his family home in Ra’anana.

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