Prominent alumni of the Wexner Israel fellowships, including a former state prosecutor and several retired generals, are suing Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, for libel over Twitter posts branding them members of a “secret cult.”
The plaintiffs are demanding NIS 1 million ($294,000) in compensation for damage to their reputations, due to Netanyahu’s smears against the prestigious leadership program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School.
The program is endowed by the Wexner Foundation, founded by fashion tycoon Leslie Wexner, who has come under increased scrutiny due to his close relationship with the late convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
The 75 plaintiffs include former state prosecutor Moshe Lador, former air force generals Amos Yadlin and Noam Tivon, and former Shin Bet security service legal adviser Eli Bachar.
The lawsuit was submitted Tuesday to a court in Herzliya.
“In repeated, false, venomous and baseless posts that are presented here, the defendant harmed the reputations of the plaintiffs, all with the goal of advancing his aims of humiliating them in public, deriding them for their studies and education, and in so doing, compromised their jobs… [their] existing and future occupations,” said the lawsuit.
The lawsuit specifically flagged tweets in which the alumni were called “crazy” cult members seeking to control Israel. In one post, Netanyahu referred to them as a “cult of pedophiles taking control of our country and carrying out a coup over the past four years.” Pressed to remove that post, he later insisted it referred only to Epstein.
The plaintiffs said they asked Yair Netanyahu, 29, to apologize and remove the posts, but he refused, prompting the suit.
The posts “caused immense harm for all of the plaintiffs to an asset that is very dear to them: Their good reputation, earned after dedicated years of public service.”
Yair Netanyahu and many on the right have accused the Wexner Foundation of using its leadership program — attended over the years by many top Israeli officials — to influence them with an alleged left-wing agenda.
In July, the Wexner Foundation clarified its relationship with former prime minister Ehud Barak, revealing the nature of a $2.3 million payment it made to Barak that has long been the subject of right-wing conspiracy theories. It also distanced itself from Epstein, who was also friendly with Barak.
In a Hebrew-language statement, the foundation said Epstein had never donated to the foundation or been involved in its decision-making and said Barak had been paid the sum between 2004 and 2006 in exchange for two lengthy studies, one on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the other on leadership. Barak only completed one of those papers, but the foundation said it had decided at the time that the work it had received was sufficient to justify the paid sum.
The Wexner Foundation is the family foundation of Leslie Wexner, the founder and chairman of L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret.
Yair Netanyahu is already facing a handful of other libel and defamation lawsuits: by a young woman who says he was responsible for “mass, public sexual harassment” of her after he insinuated she was having an affair with Benny Gantz; by a group leading anti-government protests whom Netanyahu allegedly likened to a Nazi militia; by the former chief editor of the Walla news site, whom Netanyahu accused of being part of a “conspiracy” against the premier; and by Nir Hefetz, a state witness against the premier, whose privacy was allegedly violated by Netanyahu.
In July, Netanyahu issued a laconic apology after insinuating that Channel 12 anchor Dana Weiss had attained her position through sexual favors.
Netanyahu maintains an outsize and inflammatory presence on social media.
Earlier this month, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered him to take down a tweet identifying and doxing the leaders of a protest movement against his father. The younger Netanyahu had publicized the activists’ addresses and encouraged his 88,000-plus social media followers to picket their homes. The court also told him to stop harassing the activists for six months “in any form.”