Judge rules ex-PM Olmert defamed Netanyahu family by claiming they are mentally ill

Tel Aviv court says former premier failed to prove assertion he made in 2021 interview against Benjamin, Sara, and Yair Netanyahu; fines him NIS 97,500

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing for a lawsuit against former prime minister Ehud Olmert, at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on June 12, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing for a lawsuit against former prime minister Ehud Olmert, at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on June 12, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Monday morning ruled in favor of presumptive incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara, and son Yair in their defamation suit against former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Olmert was ordered by the court to pay the family a total of NIS 97,500 ($28,000) for having asserted in a two interviews in April 2021 that the three Netanyahus were “irreparably” mentally ill.

In an interview with news site Democrat TV, Olmert had criticized Netanyahu viciously, saying, “What is irreparable is the mental illness of the prime minister, his wife and his son,” referring to Yair Netanyahu.

The Netanyahus filed a defamation suit against Olmert after he refused to apologize, seeking NIS 837,000 (some $240,000) in damages for his “obsessive efforts to harm their good name in public, out of jealousy and deep frustration.”

In court, Olmert argued that what he had said was true, but at the same time claimed his comments were protected by Israel’s defamation law, which states that under certain circumstances, including criticism of a public official, an individual making comments in good faith is not liable for them.

Judge Amit Yariv ruled, however, that Olmert’s comments constituted defamation.

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court with defense attorney Amir Tytunovich for a hearing on a defamation lawsuit filed against Olmert by the Netanyahu family, June 12, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“It is impossible to ignore the fact that in Israel in 2022, referring to a person as ‘mentally ill’ is likely to demean a person in the eyes of the people or make him an object of hatred, contempt or ridicule,” wrote Yariv, particularly in light of the fact that Olmert said the Netanyahus needed hospitalization.

Yariv also ruled that Olmert had not proved that what he said was factually true as he had not presented written statements by medical professionals attesting to the Netanyahus’ mental illness.

The judge rejected the former prime minister’s claim that his remarks had been made in good faith, noting that Olmert’s comments were not those of a professional and that he had tried to assert in his interview that the supposed mental illnesses of the Netanyahus was a medical fact, wording his comments in a manner that sought to lend them professional weight by saying that “any psychiatrist with a conscience” would would agree.

During the course of the trial, the court rejected Olmert’s defense attorney’s request for the disclosure of any medical records of the Netanyahus that might shed light on their mental health status.

The Netanyahus were awarded NIS 62,500 in damages, along with NIS 35,000 in legal expenses and other costs.

Netanyahu himself was awarded NIS 20,000, Sara NIS 35,000 and Yair NIS 7,500.

Judge Amit Yariv of the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, November 21, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The judge ruled that the child of a public official should receive the highest level of damages, but that since Yair Netanyahu has himself alleged that other public figures are mentally ill, his compensation would be reduced.

Attorney Yossi Cohen, who represented the Netanyahus, said that the court had proven that Olmert lied and that another falsehood against “prime minister Netanyahu” had been disproved.

“It is good to know that in a crazy and insane world where you can spread any gross and harmful lie against prime minister Netanyahu, his wife and family, clear and unequivocal boundaries were established today that have put an end to Olmert’s vile lie.”

Olmert preceded Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister, ending his term before being formally indicted on corruption charges. He was convicted of fraud in 2014 and served 16 months of a 27-month prison sentence.

Amir Tytunovich, the attorney who represented Olmert, said he was disappointed by the ruling and that he and Olmert would decide whether to appeal.

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