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Supreme Court throws out Yair Netanyahu’s appeal against $80,000 libel verdict

Incoming PM’s son ordered to pay journalist after failing to file defense; justice rebukes his lawyers for rejecting lower court’s compromise offer

Yair Netanyahu, son of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives for a court hearing in Tel Aviv, April 24, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Yair Netanyahu, son of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives for a court hearing in Tel Aviv, April 24, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out an appeal filed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s son against a lower court’s ruling upholding a conviction against him, meaning he will have to pay hundreds of thousands of shekels in compensation to a journalist and cover the court fees.

Yair Netanyahu — whose father served as prime minister between 2009 and 2021 and is set to return to that role in the coming weeks — has claimed the original ruling against him was issued in bad faith as he never received court notification about the libel lawsuit filed by former Walla news site editor Avi Alkalay.

Netanyahu was at the time living with his parents at the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem rather than in the family apartment in the capital or their Caesarea home. Though the letter was sent to the official residence, it was not ultimately delivered to Netanyahu, allegedly due to protocols against staff accepting registered letters at the site.

Because Netanyahu never filed a statement of defense, the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court automatically ruled in favor of Alkalay in March 2020.

Netanyahu appealed that decision to the Tel Aviv District Court, which rejected the appeal in July 2021, saying the registered letter was sent to the correct location under the circumstances, and told the former premier’s son to compensate Alkalay NIS 250,000 (approximately $73,000), and pay an additional NIS 29,250 (approximately $8,500) in court fees.

Netanyahu’s attorney Yossi Cohen had argued that delivery of the registered letter to the Prime Minister’s Residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street was not completed as it was not signed for. He claimed that no one at the residence is authorized to sign for registered mail and that any such communication must be sent to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Avi Alkalay, former editor at Walla news, arrives for a hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, on March 10, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In his decision Wednesday, Supreme Court Justice Noam Sohlberg rejected the appeal outright, saying it had failed to raise sufficient doubts about the District Court’s decision, which had noted that Netanyahu, 31, was listed at the time by the Interior Ministry as living at the official residence and, given that he is “an adult living with his parents in the prime minister’s residence,” it was the correct place to send the letter.

“The request does not raise a fundamental legal question that goes beyond the specifics of the case, and does not raise fears that justice was denied,” Sohlberg wrote.

The justice rebuked Netanyahu’s lawyers for rejecting an earlier proposal by the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court to cancel the original ruling and enable him to file a defense in exchange for a NIS 5,000 ($1,450) payment to Alkalay in court fees.

“That was a fair and proper proposal,” Sohlberg wrote. “However, Netanyahu’s attorney was quick to reject it that same day. I believe it would have been beneficial for him to carefully consider it, accept it, and avoid the later complications and all they entailed.”

Supreme Court Justice Noam Sohlberg at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, March 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The younger Netanyahu was sued for sharing posts on social media claiming Alkalay — a witness in the most serious of the three corruption cases against Benjamin Netanyahu, in which charges were eventually filed and the trial is ongoing — was “a mole” working with the state prosecution against his father.

Alkalay had sued the son of the then-prime minister for sharing a post on social media that called the journalist a “planted mole from the Wexner Foundation” — a group that the Netanyahu family accuses of funding left-wing organizations and campaigns — and that alleged he was in cahoots with the state prosecution against the then-premier.

Alkalay is a witness in the so-called Case 4000, which involves suspicions that Benjamin Netanyahu granted regulatory favors benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecoms, in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister and his family from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site.

Netanyahu is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three cases. He denies any wrongdoing.

Yair Netanyahu is no stranger to libel lawsuits and legal threats. He has a history of posting incendiary messages on social media and tweets fast and often against those he believes have wronged him and his family.

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