Liberman pulls libel suit after activist apologizes for claiming plot with Lapid

Yisrael Beytenu chief accepts remarks by ‘Captain George’ Giora Ezra, who says he was ‘wrong’ to accuse Liberman of colluding to doom coalition talks

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference following the dissolving of the Knesset, and ahead of the new elections, in Tel Aviv, on May 30, 2019. (Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference following the dissolving of the Knesset, and ahead of the new elections, in Tel Aviv, on May 30, 2019. (Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday dropped a libel suit against a man who had claimed in a series of tweets that the lawmaker had met with Blue and White No. 2 MK Yair Lapid in Vienna to plot the failure of coalition talks after April’s elections.

Twitter user Giora Ezra, whose handle is Captain George, had said earlier in the day that he was wrong to make the accusations and that he apologizes to Liberman.

“I want to make it clear that the things I wrote were based on various published information on the matter,” Ezra told Radio 103FM. “I was wrong. I have removed all the things I published on the matter and I apologize to Avigdor Liberman.”

Shortly afterwards, the Yisrael Beytenu party said in a statement that “it accepted the apology and will pull the suit.”

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (R) and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman hold a joint press conference at the Knesset on February 29, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Liberman, through his attorneys, had filed the libel suit Tuesday, demanding NIS 140,000 ($38,000) from Ezra for deliberately trying to defame him during an election campaign as the country gears up to head back to the polls on September 17.

Ezra, a 64-year-old real estate agent from the central city of Yavneh, tweeted at least five times in recent weeks about what he said was “the plan that was cooked up between Lapid and Liberman in Vienna.”

On Tuesday The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site, Zman Yisrael, reported that Liberman had also sued another Twitter user, Ruth Kiryati, for making the same claim and posting a photo she said showed Liberman and Lapid meeting at a Tel Aviv cafe, two weeks after allegedly being in Vienna.

In their libel suit against Kiryati, attorneys for Liberman said the photo was an old one — taken in the Knesset cafeteria a year before the date Kiryati gave for it.

Seeking NIS 140,000 in damages, Liberman’s attorneys claimed the photo “is liable to cause the innocent reader to believe that this is ‘unmitigated proof’ of the alleged meeting between the plaintiff and MK Yair Lapid in Vienna.”

As of Wednesday, Kiryati had still not removed the tweet.

Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party failed to put together a right-wing majority coalition due to an impasse between secular Liberman and ultra-Orthodox parties, ostensibly over army draft quotas for the ultra-Orthodox community, leading to the dissolving of parliament and scheduling of new elections.

Netanyahu has accused the hawkish Liberman of being a leftist and using the ultra-Orthodox draft as an excuse to stay out of their coalition and prevent another Likud-led government, thus giving a chance to the party’s chief rival, the centrist Blue and White.

Ezra and his “Captain George” Twitter persona gained media attention before the April elections when his account was listed in a report that claimed to expose an alleged network of fake Twitter accounts disseminating pro-Netanyahu messages.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes far-right Likud supporter Giora Ezra to the podium at a press conference, at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, on April 1, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Netanyahu convened a press conference to address the report and invited some of those included in it, among them Ezra, to stand with him before the press, proving they were real people and not automated bots, as claimed in the report.

Shortly after the press conference, held at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, dozens of disparaging statements made by Ezra began to emerge showing him to be a far-right political activist with a history of lashing out against the prime minister’s rivals, journalists, and public officials with racist and homophobic statements.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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