Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz has filed an NIS 1 million (about $275,000) libel lawsuit against the Israel Hayom daily for publishing questionable allegations of sexual misconduct from over 40 years ago.
Gantz has emerged as the main rival to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of next month’s elections. The suit filed at the Tel Aviv District Court on Tuesday claimed the pro-Netanyahu daily published the “fictitious” secondhand claims — of which the alleged victim has said she has no memory — in an effort to sway public opinion against him.
According to the court documents released by Blue and White, Gantz is suing both Israel Hayom reporter Danielle Roth-Avneri and its editor in chief, Boaz Bismuth.
Gantz’s lawsuit claims the paper acted “with blatant journalist negligence” in publishing the reports about his alleged sexual misconduct “without first conducting minimal and obligatory due diligence.”
Last week Israel Hayom published an allegation of misconduct from Gantz’s high school years. The claim was made by an unnamed schoolmate of Gantz’s, who claimed the party leader exposed himself to his mother and younger sister during a family visit to the HaKfar HaYarok boarding school around 1976.
When Channel 12 reached out to the man’s sister to try to confirm the allegation, she told the TV station she did not remember the incident. The mother, the other witness to the alleged incident, has since passed away.
In the wake of Gantz’s denial and questions raised by other media outlets, Israel Hayom sought to confirm its story by having the man undergo a polygraph test.
However, the daily faced further scrutiny over the decision after it claimed the polygraph results supported the man’s allegations, but did not provide the results of the test. Israel Hayom did not publish any further details about the test, and Channel 12 said its request for information was denied by the paper.
Israel Hayom, a freebie newspaper backed by US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, has been staunchly loyal to Netanyahu for years.
The statement from Gantz said the Israel Hayom reports were published with the clear intention to “advance the political interests of [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”
“There is no truth to these stories,” Gantz said in a statement on Thursday. “These things never happened; these are awful lies about me that amount to blood libel.”
The claim in Israel Hayom followed an allegation by a HaKfar HaYarok graduate that Gantz exposed himself to her when they attended the school in the mid-1970s.
The woman, Nava Jacobs, said the incident occurred when she was about 14 and Gantz was about 17, and was stopped by a mutual friend who pulled him away from her. She said told media outlets the incident “ruined my life.”
A subsequent Channel 13 report found no proof to support the claim, while a Channel 12 investigation revealed that members of Likud Minister Miri Regev’s staff helped Jacobs shop around for journalists last month when she sought to publish her story.
Gantz categorically rejected Jacobs’ allegation, and questioned her motivations for speaking out weeks before Israel’s national elections. He claimed that Jacobs “acted at the behest of, or with the help of political parties who seek to humiliate and discredit” him, and filed a NIS 500,000 libel lawsuit against her.
Blue and White said that Gantz will donate his winnings to sexual assault victims if he wins either case.