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Yair Netanyahu battles in court to cancel libel verdict against him

Prime minister’s son, seeking to overturn $72,000 compensation he was ordered to pay former news editor, claims he doesn’t read all posts he shares, drawing warning from judge

Yair Netanyahu, son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court in Tel Aviv on March 10, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Yair Netanyahu, son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court in Tel Aviv on March 10, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Yair Netanyahu, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son, appeared at Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday seeking to overturn a verdict ordering him to pay hundreds of thousands of shekels in damages to a journalist who sued him for libel.

Netanyahu claims the ruling against him was in bad faith as he never received the court notification about the libel lawsuit filed by former Walla news site editor Avi Alkalay.

Last March, the court ordered Yair Netanyahu to pay NIS 286,000 ($71,000) to Alkalay, a witness in the most serious of the three corruption cases against the prime minister, over posts the younger Netanyahu shared on social media claiming the editor was “a mole” working with the state prosecution against his father. Because Netanyahu never filed a statement of defense, the court had automatically ruled in favor of Alkalay.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Netanyahu told Judge Kohava Levy that he doesn’t always read the social media posts that he shares.

“Sometimes I see that I like the first sentence,” and then share the post, the 29-year-old Netanyahu told the court.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and son Yair in Tel Aviv, January 23, 2020. (Aleksey Nikolskyi/Sputnik Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

“You are getting yourself into trouble,” the judge warned him. “You clicked without giving consideration.”

The hearing also examined the reliability of mail reaching Yair Netanyahu as he lives at the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, rather than in the family apartment in the capital or their Caesarea home. Netanyahu insisted that other court papers involving the eight separate libel lawsuits he is involved in, some against him and some filed against others, all reached their destination.

Though no decision was made on canceling the earlier ruling, Levy ordered Netanyahu to pay additional court costs of NIS 3,500 ($1,057).

Alkalay had sued Yair Netanyahu 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 premier.

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.

In 2019 Yair Netanyahu won a libel lawsuit against Labor party activist Abie Binyamin, who had accused him of using a fake Mossad-issued passport to hide millions overseas. Netanyahu sued Binyamin for NIS 140,000 ($37,000) in damages over a 2017 Facebook post that claimed the premier had asked the secret service to issue his son a passport under a different name, which he then used to hide money offshore.

Alkalay is a witness in what is dubbed Case 4000 which involves suspicions that 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.

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

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