Liberman files defamation suit over leak accusations

Yisrael Beytenu party leader goes to court over claims he released draft version of controversial state comptroller report

Leader of the Yisrael Beytenu political party MK Avigdor Liberman arrives at the Knesset, Jerusalem, March 15, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Leader of the Yisrael Beytenu political party MK Avigdor Liberman arrives at the Knesset, Jerusalem, March 15, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu party leader MK Avigdor Liberman on Monday filed a defamation lawsuit for NIS 140,000 ($36,700) against Channel 10 reporter Or Heller over a report last week that the lawmaker had leaked a secret, damning report by State Comptroller Yosef Shapira on the 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza.

In the suit, filed at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, Liberman declared that he wasn’t behind the leak and that “the deceitful report from Heller damaged his good name.”

He also asked the court to force Heller to publish an apology for the accusation.

If he wins the case, Liberman said, he intends to donate the cash to the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers.

Channel 10 responded in a statement, “Or Heller published information citing senior sources in the defense establishment, who pointed at Mr. Liberman as the one who leaked the report. During the broadcast Liberman’s extensive response was aired.”

Last week Liberman sent a letter to the TV station demanding Heller issue an on-air apology for citing a security official who said he was behind the leak to the Hebrew press.

Liberman called the claim “libelous” and wrote, “Mr. Heller must publish an apology and a clarification that the allegations are untrue.” The letter said Liberman “reserves the right to pursue legal actions against Heller.”

Heller had cited a senior security official who speculated that Liberman, who was foreign minister during the 50-day conflict, leaked the draft in an effort to discredit Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

The official was also quoted as saying that Liberman, whose party has been in the opposition since the formation of the current Netanyahu government last year, was hoping to cause Ya’alon’s political downfall and then replace him as defense minister.

Shapira, the state comptroller, asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to investigate the leak and find out who had handed out the draft report to several Israeli journalists.

The report accuses Netanyahu and Ya’alon of failing to update the security cabinet in real time of the imminent threat of war with Hamas, and of not discussing the grave threat of the terror group’s attack tunnels, according to Hebrew media sources who read it.

But Liberman, the official quoted by Channel 10 said, was uninformed about the tunnels, as he was not present at cabinet meetings on the issue.

Shapira has since sent the highly classified draft report to Netanyahu, Ya’alon and other government officials.

Hamas, the terrorist organization that has ruled Gaza since a bloody 2007 coup against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, has an extensive network of tunnels inside the Strip, including some that reach into Israel and Egypt. The tunnels into Egypt are used primarily to ferry goods and people, while the ones dug into Israel are designed for attacks.

The destruction of the tunnels was cited by Israel as one of its primary goals during the 2014 war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge. The IDF said it destroyed more than 30 tunnels during the conflict.

AFP contributed to this report.

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