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Testifying in libel case, Netanyahus adamant Sara not involved in decision-making

Prime minister and wife appear in court over lawsuit filed against ex-defense official who claims to have seen legal pact detailing Sara’s right to influence state affairs

Sara Netanyahu arrives to testify in the lawsuit filed by Attorney David Shimron against attorney David Artzi, at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, January 23, 2023. (Moti Milrod)
Sara Netanyahu arrives to testify in the lawsuit filed by Attorney David Shimron against attorney David Artzi, at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, January 23, 2023. (Moti Milrod)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara testified in court Monday that there is no secret contract between them giving the premier’s partner the right to be involved in political and professional appointments.

The Netanyahus were in the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court as witnesses in a libel lawsuit filed by the prime minister’s second cousin and former attorney David Shimron.

Shimron has sued former defense industry official and ex-Export Institute chairman David Artzi, who alleged that Shimron drafted a 15-page “secret agreement” in the 1990s between Netanyahu and his wife, granting her sweeping control over core aspects of national affairs, including veto power over senior appointments and the right to be included in security deliberations.

Shimron and Netanyahu have denied the allegations, and Shimron filed the libel suit against Artzi for NIS 425,000 ($121,000) in March 2021.

Netanyahu said Monday that not only does his wife not have access to state secrets, she doesn’t even know what he got up to during his army service when he was a member of the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit.

“It is a gross lie,” the prime minister said of the alleged contract. He justified his wife accompanying him on trips abroad, putting it down to their “wonderful relationship,” and rejected any possible suggestion that this was because of the alleged agreement between them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to testify in the lawsuit filed by Attorney David Shimron against attorney David Artzi, at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, January 23, 2023. (Moti Milrod)

The two were questioned by Artzi’s attorney Liad Vertzhaizer, who asked Netanyahu why the couple did not themselves file a libel lawsuit against her client, nor send him a warning letter as they had done multiple times in the past to those they felt were slandering them.

The prime minister responded that in this particular case, it was a “lie” that had been circulating for many years.

“I cannot be responsible for every slander and every lie that comes out, because it is in the thousands. There is no public figure and no spouse who has faced so many false claims like me and my wife, and there is no possibility of suing,” he said.

“There was no agreement, no clauses… there was nothing. Lies and falsehood.”

Netanyahu described as a “total lie” the claim made by former Mossad spy chief Meir Dagan that Sara had once joined them during a discussion about a sensitive operation, and only left when Dagan refused to continue until she exited the room.

While stressing his wife is not involved in appointments, Netanyahu admitted that Sara did not think it was a good idea to take on Naftali Bennett as his bureau chief in 2009, telling the court “it is a pity I didn’t listen to her then.”

Of the alleged contract, Sara Netanyahu told the court, “There was never any such thing.”

She went on to say that for the past 30 years, she has been hearing different versions of claims on the alleged agreement, and in each telling it was supposedly drawn up by a different attorney.

“I don’t interfere with security at all,” she continued. “I see the military secretary enter the prime minister’s room and I leave. I didn’t want to be a part of that. Really, my husband doesn’t involve me in security matters.”

“I am not involved in security or economic matters” but only “in consultations with my husband of course, in political matters of a campaign or in preparation for a campaign.”

Sara was asked what influence she has over the prime minister’s travels and meetings abroad, responding: “I have no influence.” She insisted she was never consulted about planned meetings and asserted she had never requested that a meeting be canceled.

As to why she and her husband had not sued Artzi themselves, Sara explained that several factors go into deciding on whether or not to file a lawsuit.

“It depends,” she said. “Sometimes to do with timing, the level of anger, the amount of agreement with the attorneys. Sometimes I go with it, sometimes not.”

She also asserted that there are so many lies told about her that it would be a never-ending task to file defamation lawsuits against all those who spread them.

Attorney David Shimron attends a court hearing on a lawsuit he filed against attorney David Artzi, at the Magistrates Court in Rishon Lezion, January 1, 2023. (Flash90)

Sara was asked about the claims by Maj. Gen. (res.) Guy Tzur, that she was the one who effectively interviewed him to become military secretary to the prime minister. Sara responded that she didn’t remember him and that she has met thousands of people at the busy official prime minister’s residence, claiming she would speak to those who passed through in her capacity as a host, offering them refreshments.

“I didn’t know it was forbidden to be nice,” she said.

The allegations of a secret agreement between Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu are connected to Benjamin Netanyahu’s affair with his media adviser in the 1990s, which he acknowledged publicly in 1993 in what became known as the “hot tape” affair.

According to the allegations, an agreement was drawn up between the couple after this incident that gave Sara significant authority over her husband’s decisions in numerous aspects of national life.

Earlier this month, Yisrael Beytenu leader and former finance and defense minister MK Avigdor Liberman testified in court that Sara Netanyahu was routinely involved in appointments.

Tzur, a retired high-ranking IDF official, also testified in the Rishon Lezion court regarding an interview he had in 2012 for the position of military secretary to the prime minister.

“The prime minister arrived, sat down and asked me one question. [Then Sara] sat down and spoke with me for five minutes. Later, the prime minister returned, apologized, and said that we had spoken enough, and he dismissed me from the meeting,” testified Tzur.

“I felt like I had been interviewed by her, and because of that I wouldn’t get the job.” Two days later, Tzur received the news that he would not be appointed military secretary.

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