A libel lawsuit filed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son against a social activist began Monday with raucous shouting outside the courtroom and sharp exchanges inside that saw the judge tell the younger Netanyahu to stop cursing.
Yair Netanyahu is suing activist Abie Binyamin for damages of NIS 140,000 ($37,000) over a Facebook post that claimed the premier had asked the Mossad to issue his son a passport under a different name, which he then used to hide money offshore.
A crowd of about 15 protesters gathered at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, where the hearing was held, and shouted jeers at Netanyahu as he arrived for the hearing. The protesters shouted “Corrupt people out” and “Garbage” at Netanyahu, who responded by flipping them his middle finger, held high.
Inside the courtroom Binyamin’s attorney Gonen Ben Itzhak told the court that his client could not be held responsible for what is going on outside the court room.
“I am very upset and cannot get over what happened outside,” Netanyahu told the judge. “I was violently assaulted at the entrance to a court in Israel. Curses that I don’t want to repeat. These are Abie Binyamin’s friends, and he invited them to come here. I refuse to leave until all the thugs are taken away, ‘the Brownshirts’ of Abie Binyamin.”
During cross-examination, Ben Itzhak pressed Netanyahu about his employment history, asking whether he had ever been employed by the Prime Minister’s Office in the role of new media agent, apparently to show his deep involvement in the prime minister’s affairs.
“Write it on Facebook and we will sue you again,” Netanyahu threatened in response.
Ben Itzhak then asked him to explain what it was that bothered him so much about his client’s Facebook post, which was published on August 17, 2016, and subsequently deleted.
“If as soon as I leave here I write that I saw you raping a four-year-old girl, will it bother you?” Netanyahu challenged the defense attorney. “Lies that never happened and have no relation to reality don’t bother you?”
Netanyahu said there was a difference between offering an opinion, which is freedom of speech, and stating that something is a fact.
“If someone writes that you are a fornicator, is that an opinion or a fact?” Ben Itzhak asked.
“If someone writes that I went to Pussycat [Dolls], then fuck them,” Netanyahu replied, drawing a request from the judge that he not use such language. Netanyahu was referring to recordings published in January of a night of excess during which he visited a series of Tel Aviv strip clubs.
Addressing the claims made in the Facebook post, Netanyahu said he had never used a false identity and had never been to Panama, where he was accused of secreting money.
In June, Netanyahu told the court that he was refusing to accept an apology by Binyamin to settle the libel suit, because the attempt to make amends was not sincere enough to satisfy his demand for justice.
In the original post, Binyamin, who has been active in demonstrations against the attorney general’s handling of corruption investigations against Prime Minister Netanyahu, wrote that the premier had called the head of the Mossad to request a passport in a fake name for Yair.
Binyamin also claimed that the real purpose of the alleged false identity was to hide money overseas, and that the name used on the fake passport later appeared in the so-called Panama Papers, an anonymously leaked trove of millions of documents containing details about wealthy individuals and public officials, including their alleged offshore holdings.
The implications of the post were that the Netanyahu family was involved in money laundering or tax evasion.
Separately, police have recommended charges be brought against Prime Minister Netanyahu in three corruption cases. The prime minister denies any wrongdoing in all the cases, saying they are a witch hunt against him.