Yair Netanyahu petitions for cancellation of $72,000 libel verdict

PM’s son says he never got notice of lawsuit filed by former news editor, whom he’d accused of being a ‘planted mole’ for an organization his family claims funds left-wing groups

Yair Netanyahu at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, June 5, 2018. (Flash90)
Yair Netanyahu at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, June 5, 2018. (Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair petitioned the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Thursday to cancel its verdict ordering that he pay NIS 250,000 ($72,425) after failing to respond to a libel suit brought against him by a former Walla news site editor.

In his petition filed by family attorney Yossi Cohen, Netanyahu argued that last week’s ruling against him was carried out in bad faith because he had never received notice of the lawsuit filed by Avi Alkalay.

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’s prosecution against the premier.

Alkalay’s attorney, Ron Levinthal, said in response to the ruling: “It is regrettable that at first the defendant underestimated the plaintiff, posted things without reviewing them, and later disregarded the court and the law, and did not bother to file a defense. From a prime minister’s son, higher standards could be expected.”

Yair Netanyahu, son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at an election event in Tel Aviv, September 18, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

In a series of Twitter posts last Friday, Netanyahu claimed to have not known about the lawsuit, and said that he never received any notice.

In his Thursday petition, he wrote, “This was a serious attempt at deception. The delivery confirmation [of the lawsuit] is incomplete and does not have the signature of the recipient.”

The younger Netanyahu added that he had taken the post down upon receiving an official warning from Alkalay and he assumed that was the end of the issue.

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.

Last week, he became embroiled in a new scandal after posting a photo and details of a young woman, Dana Cassidy, who took a selfie with Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, leading her to suffer online harassment by supporters of Netanyahu and his father amid suggestions of a sexual encounter with Gantz.

Cassidy said the reactions to Netanyahu’s post on social media were a form of “mass sexual harassment,” with posters making numerous sexual references to her and her supposed relationship with Gantz. She said she was later inundated with “a flood” of calls from the media asking her for comment on her purported affair with the politician. On Friday she said she would take Netanyahu to court for his actions.

Her father Kobi then wrote an angry Facebook post addressed to the prime minister in which he said Yair “raped my daughter… in broad daylight, in the village square… he raped her honor. While using his status as the prime minister’s son, and as part of a disgusting campaign for you.”

“At his direction and inspired by him, my daughter’s honor was trampled publicly by every malcontent and good-for-nothing,” he said.

Yair Netanyahu responded by threatening Kobi Cassidy with legal action for libel, and saying he’d demand NIS 1 million ($286,000) in damages if the post was not deleted.

Last year, 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. The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court ruled for Netanyahu but lowered the award to  NIS 20,000 ($5,600) in damages and a further NIS 7,000 ($2,000) in fees.

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