Israel saw a soap-opera-like spectacle Tuesday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu testified in court to deny a claim his wife had kicked him out of the car during a fight.
“It didn’t happen,” Netanyahu said at the court in Tel Aviv, where he and his wife entered under tight security to testify in their defamation suit against the journalist who made the claim on social media.
His hands behind his back, his face tense, Netanyahu said, “It is so false, so absurd, ridiculous.”
The case has been closely followed by the Israeli media, with the unusual scene of a sitting prime minister and his wife, Sara, testifying in court over such a claim making headlines.
It follows a post by a journalist on his Facebook account last year making the claim, resulting in the Netanyahus’ defamation suit.
The journalist, Igal Sarna, posted that a fight between the Netanyahus had occurred while they were traveling as part of the premier’s official convoy on the highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. According to Sarna, who works for the popular Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, PM Netanyahu was forced out of the car amid shouting.
The Netanyahus are a frequent topic of gossip and rumors among Israelis, and Netanyahu said he wanted the truth to be known in this instance.
They are suing for 280,000 shekels ($76,000).
Netanyahu held his wife’s hand when they arrived at the courtroom, where dozens of people were kept out due to a lack of space.
During his testimony, the premier denounced what he called the “vulgar lie… that led me here.”
Igal Sarna, questioned by Netanyahu’s lawyer, said he believed “more than ever” that the incident had occurred. Asked why he had not produced any witnesses to corroborate the story, he said that his sources “do not want to come. I cannot force them to come.”
Sara Netanyahu said with a tense smile that “I am here because I am looking for the truth.
“If I had to sue over all the lies against me during the last 20 years, I would have spent all my days in court,” she added.
But she called Sarna’s claim among the “very bad lies.”
Another hearing is set for May 18.
During his testimony on Tuesday, Netanyahu also told the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court that he would apologize if a Justice Ministry probe determines that the deadly car incident in the southern town of Umm al-Hiran in January was not terror-related.
Given the nature of the case, Sarna’s attorney asked the prime minister on the witness stand if he is always careful to post truthful content on his own Facebook feed.
When Netanyahu responded that he does indeed strive to do so, the lawyer then raised the Umm al-Hiran incident.
During a January demolition of the village, Yacoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an was shot dead by police in what was initially described by police as a car-ramming attack. Erez Levi, a police officer, was also killed.
In a Facebook post later that day, Netanyahu labeled the incident as a terror attack. He was joined by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and other senior officials who described the incident in the same manner. Some made statements linking Abu Al-Qia’an with the Islamic State group.
However, an upcoming review of the incident by the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigations Department will reportedly contradict those claims, finding that the police shooting may have unwittingly caused Abu Al-Qia’an to lose control of his car and hit Levi.
“The matter is still under investigation,” Netanyahu told Sarna’s lawyer, adding that he would apologize if the probe proves his original characterization of the event to be false.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.