Far-right Knesset hopeful Itamar Ben Gvir on Sunday filed a libel lawsuit against former defense minister Avigdor Liberman, making good on a threat he made on Thursday after Liberman alleged in a radio interview that the Otzma Yehudit candidate could be an agent for the Shin Bet security service.
Ben Gvir, a lawyer who has represented far-right hilltop youth in cases against the Israeli authorities and a leader of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, responded at the time by suggesting that Liberman, an immigrant to Israel from Moldova in the former Soviet Union, could be a KGB agent.
He also threatened to sue Liberman for libel if he didn’t apologize within 48 hours, which Liberman did not do. On Sunday morning Ben Gvir said he had filed a suit demanding NIS 250,000 ($69,000).
“This morning I filed a quarter-million shekel lawsuit at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court against Liberman, who needs to learn: some don’t only talk but also act. He slandered — and will pay,” he said in a statement.
Liberman, whose right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party is experiencing a political crisis and hasn’t passed the electoral threshold in the most recent public opinion polls, told Israel Radio Thursday he was “not a fan” of the far-right party, which joined forces with the Jewish Home and National Union parties to create the Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP).
In that context, he took aim at Ben Gvir, Otzma Yehudit’s No. 2 and eighth on URWP’s slate.
“Is Itamar Ben Gvir the same man he presents himself as? Or is it a sort of new Champagne?” he said, referring to the codename of Avishai Raviv, a radical right-wing activist who became a Shin Bet mole in the 1980s and 90s.
After the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, Raviv was accused of having known of killer Yigal Amir’s plans to murder the prime minister and of failing to inform the Shin Bet in advance. Raviv was tried but found not guilty.
“I have some reservations about Ben Gvir,” Liberman continued. “I have seen the man for many years and there is something in his activeness and declarations that raises questions.”
Ben Gvir — whose candidacy in the April elections was approved by the slimmest of margins, 16-15, in the Central Elections Committee — reacted at the time by saying the claim was “baseless.”
In the lawsuit, Ben Gvir cited a 2008 ruling in an a case against writer Barry Chamish in which he was accused of being a Shin Bet agent.
In that case, judge Oded Shaham ruled in Ben Gvir’s favor and awarded him NIS 36,000, saying that while some would view the accusation as a compliment, among certain groups it would be viewed as libel.
“Publications saying the plaintiff acts as a Shin Bet agent within the group in which he lives, creates false impressions, acts to defame those who belong to his ostensible political camp and creates provocations that could bring down its members — are libel toward members of that group,” Shaham wrote at the time.
The lawsuit also called Liberman’s remark “absurd” and argued that while Ben Gvir was “battling torture” by the Shin Bet’s Jewish Unit against arrested hilltop youth, Liberman was “part of the coalition that approved the torture.”
“I understand Liberman is under pressure,” Ben Gvir said in his statement. “He sees the polls, discovers he is not passing the electoral threshold, and understands that his voters are voting en masse for the Union of Right Wing Parties.”
“But there are things you cannot say,” he added. “To hint I’m a Shin Bet [man] is more severe than claiming Liberman is a KGB agent.”