Key witness in Netanyahu corruption trial files defamation suit against journalist

Hadas Klein says pro-Netanyahu pundit Eli Zipori ran a ‘consistent campaign of defamation and harassment’ against her during her testimony in Case 1000

Hadas Klein arrives to a court hearing in the trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem on September 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Hadas Klein arrives to a court hearing in the trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem on September 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A key witness in the ongoing corruption trial of expected incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has filed a defamation lawsuit against a staunchly pro-Netanyahu journalist, seeking NIS 5 million ($1.45 million) for what she termed a smear campaign against her during the course of her testimony in the legal proceedings.

Hadas Klein was a personal assistant to Australian billionaire James Packer and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, and has become a key witness for the prosecution in the so-called Case 1000, which revolves around luxury gifts received by Netanyahu and his family from those moguls and quid pro quos he is accused of having provided in return. The indictment against Netanyahu alleges that he assisted Milchan with US visa issues and regulatory and tax benefits relating to his business interests in Israel.

Klein filed her lawsuit with the Tel Aviv District Court on Thursday against Eli Zipori, an editor, blogger, and radio host whom she said ran a “consistent defamation and harassment campaign” against her in recent months that included close to 200 posts on social media platforms in efforts aimed at undermining her credibility, making her “a target for hate and contempt” among the general public, and “damaging the process of her testimony.”

Excerpts from the lawsuit were cited in the Hebrew-language media on Thursday. In it, Klein and her lawyers charge that Zipori had published a number of lies including that she was a “state witness,” a “police agent,” and part of a “coup against Netanyahu,” and referred to her as “the face of evil.”

During her months-long testimony, Klein detailed gifts to the Netanyahus from her employers, including premium cigars, bottles of champagne and a diamond-studded bracelet. The goods were provided between 2011 and 2016, according to the indictment.

In court proceedings, the defense has sought to downplay the size of the gifts and other parts of Klein’s testimony, which ended in September.

Klein had previously filed a police complaint against Zipori for harassment after the journalist posted a picture of her home in Herzliya and accused her of “hypocrisy” over her testimony in the trial.

In his July post to Twitter, he wrote: “Hadas Klein who played the victim in her testimony, saying she is ‘carrying the family burden’ and ‘was almost fired,’ is living in a villa in Herzliya estimated at NIS 10 million, which she purchased back in 2013. In her testimony she spoke of renovations she did and about hosting billionaires like [James] Packer and [Arnon] Milchan.”

While a bit blurry, the picture shows the home’s address.

Hadas Klein arrives at a court hearing in the trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Jerusalem District Court, July 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

According to reports at the time, police launched an investigation into Klein’s complaint.

Following the tweet, Milchan lambasted right-wing attacks on Klein and said he was “disgusted by the wild and unbridled incitement, the explicit and implicit threats and the outright slander against staff that has stood by my side for years with devotion and professionalism.”

“I unequivocally condemn any attempt to defame them and to wrongfully pressure them and I give them full backing in the face of such attacks,” he said.

Klein has been the target of online harassment in the past. In June, she was threatened by a person identifying himself as Shimon Carmieli on Twitter, posting threats and offensive messages against Klein for months that included passages like: “With God’s help, soon Hadas Klein will die” and “I hope that Hadas Klein has a seizure in her black heart.”

After her final courtroom appearance in September, Klein was visibly emotional as she has been on several occasions during her testimony, and said outside of the courtroom that she had been exposed to the “cruelty” of some Israelis who objected to what she had told the court.

Likud party leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures after voting next to his wife Sara in a primary to fill out the party’s Knesset slate, in Tel Aviv on August 10, 2022. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

During her testimony, Klein said that she had personally delivered champagne, cigars and jewelry to Netanyahu and his wife Sara, and described in detail the constant pressure and demands made by the couple for such items.

She also described how Milchan had managed to obtain a 10-year US visa in 2013, and how Netanyahu had set up a phone call between the businessman and then US secretary of state John Kerry to help obtain it.

Netanyahu’s defense team sought to poke holes in Klein’s narrative by claiming that the former prime minister and his wife had a genuine friendship with Milchan, who gave them gifts out of a sense of friendship and not in order to receive favors. The defense also said the actual amount of champagne and cigars given to Netanyahu was less than Klein claimed.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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