Likud MK Oren Hazan took hard drugs while serving as a casino manager in Bulgaria before being elected to the Knesset, a Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court judge said Tuesday, rejecting the bulk of a libel lawsuit brought by Hazan against a reporter from Channel 2 news.
Judge Azaria Alcalay ruled that a June 2015 investigative report claiming Hazan had hired prostitutes for his friends and used hard drugs while managing a Burgas casino in 2013 amounted to “responsible, serious journalism and reflected the reality as it was.”
Hazan had sought NIS 1 million (some $260,000) in damages from Channel 2 reporter Amit Segal, claiming the allegations were false and constituted libel.
In his ruling, Alcalay said that evidence brought before the court by two witnesses, named in the ruling as Eviatar and Avi, proved that Hazan had indeed taken crystal meth. He said that it could not be proved that Hazan provided prostitutes to friends or customers of the casino but that he was convinced Segal had sufficient evidence to be protected under freedom of the press.
“I believed the testimony of Eviatar and Avi over that of the plaintiff — who completely denied that he had taken drugs, just as he denied he any connection to the casino — after it was clear that he had given false testimony on other issues,” Alcalay wrote.
The court, however, accepted Hazan’s complaint that Channel 2 was wrong to report he has sold hard drugs, a detail that only appeared on the outlet’s Mako website and not in the initial report. Channel 2 was ordered to pay Hazan NIS 40,000 in damages.
Hazan responded to the ruling saying that the damages he won, despite constituting just 4 percent of what he was seeking, prove that Segal and Channel 2 are “guilty of a false and distorted report.”
“Despite a campaign of slander, the Israeli court has ordered a reporter to pay damages of 40,000 shekels and ruled that there was no dealing in drugs or women. In [Channel 2 and Segal’s] place, I would be embarrassed, not celebrating,” Hazan said in a statement.
In the Channel 2 report, titled “Prostitutes, drugs and the deputy speaker of the Knesset,” two Israeli tourists and a casino employee affirmed that Hazan provided prostitutes for his guests in the Burgas casino, in which he held a stake. Both prostitution and hard-drug use are illegal in Bulgaria.
Hazan, an outspoken freshman lawmaker who has run afoul of the Knesset Ethics Committee in the past over insults hurled at other lawmakers, denied the allegations at the time of the report.
“I am sorry to disappoint you, but the sexual fantasies, sick personality and vivid imagination of yourself and of those who fed you [the story] are out of touch with reality,” he told Segal in June.
Hazan’s attorney Avraham Keren sent a letter to Channel 2 and Segal shortly after the report aired, accusing them of libel and demanding that they retract the story and apologize.
“Your intention was to injure — with no other practical reason — the standing of my client and his good name,” the letter read.
According to an affidavit submitted to the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, the Channel 2 report damaged Hazan’s reputation, prevented him from taking part in important Knesset activities, and caused his girlfriend to break up with him.
Segal said after the ruling Tuesday that the Likud party must consider whether Hazan should be able to continue to serve as a Knesset member.
“The court ruled that MK Oren Hazan used hard drugs. The Likud faction needs to decide what to do with this decision. I don’t know of another court ruling against an MK like this,” Segal told Army Radio.
Following the airing of the report, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein blocked Hazan from presiding over any Knesset meetings “until further notice.”
In December, the Knesset Ethics Committee also suspended Hazan from participating in parliamentary debates for a month, due to a series of complaints against him.
In February, Hazan was again suspended from the committee hearings, this time by his own Likud party after he skipped a plenum vote resulting in a loss for the party.
And a 2015 state comptroller report on party spending during primary campaigns said Hazan failed to report his expenditure and accused him of lying in an affidavit declaring his expenses, a crime that can carry up to a three-year custodial sentence.
He was also roundly criticized by fellow lawmakers for appearing to mock a disabled MK Karin Elharar from the Knesset floor during a December plenum vote.
Marissa Newman contributed to this report.