Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis was fined thousands of shekels on Thursday for slandering a woman on Facebook.
In September 2016, while the minister, a member of the ruling Likud party, was on an official visit to the US, Batya Shefi Gottlieb posted a comment on his Facebook page: “I didn’t send you so feel free to stay.”
The minister replied to her comment, writing, “Akunis team: You are a brazen and ugly woman. No one asked for your sick opinion.”
Gottlieb, who has facial paralysis, according to the Walla news site, responded, “I don’t remember writing anything about your appearance. And if you don’t understand, on Facebook you don’t need to ask my opinion. I give it freely.”
She sued Akunis for defamation, and seven months after the incident, the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court fined the minister.
According to Channel 2, court records show that Akunis has to pay NIS 12,000 ($3,300) in addition to costs of NIS 3,500 ($960). The minister’s office confirmed that the minister had agreed to pay NIS 12,500 ($3,400).
“This is the first time that a serving minister in the Israeli government was obligated to compensate under the Defamation Law,” Guy Ofir, Gottlieb’s lawyer, told Walla.
“In his defense [the minister] wrote that he had gotten into a taxi in New York, lost his temper for a moment and published the crude response himself,” Ofir explained. “Although he wrote ‘Akunis team,’ he wrote it himself.”
Gottlieb said that she hadn’t wanted to sue the minister, but her demands for an apology went unanswered.
“I waited months for a public or personal apology, a condemnation from the minister or the party he represents,” she told Walla. “I have not heard or received any apology.”
However, immediately after the incident Akunis publicly apologized in an interview with Israel Radio.
“I apologize to Mrs. Gottlieb, and I use this forum to say sorry to her,” he said. “I had wanted to do so personally, but unfortunately she refused my call from the United States… It was inappropriate and if necessary I apologize and hope that the apology will be accepted.”
Gottlieb told Channel 2 that Akunis’s office phoned her once while she was busy with her grandchildren. She asked them to call back but never heard from the minister or his office again.
A spokesperson for the minister responded to the court’s decision. “The plaintiff sued for NIS 150,000. The court requested the parties’ consent… to reach a compromise, and the mnister agreed. The minister will be happy to donate the money to any worthy Zionist public purpose that the plaintiff proposes.”
Gottlieb’s lawyer rejected the minister’s offer of donating the money to a charity. “This is not a contribution to charity,” said Ofir. “It’s compensation and he has to pay it. If he doesn’t, we will enforce the ruling.”
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