Yair Netanyahu says state should cover NIS 420,000 he needs to pay in libel suit

Former PM’s son argues failure of Prime Minister’s Residence staff to deliver court papers denied him right to defend himself; prosecutor’s office says letter properly delivered

Yair Netanyahu, son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives for a court hearing in a lawsuit filed by former MK Stav Shafir in Tel Aviv, on November 29, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Yair Netanyahu, son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives for a court hearing in a lawsuit filed by former MK Stav Shafir in Tel Aviv, on November 29, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair has filed a request for the state to cover the NIS 420,000 ($123,000) he needs to pay after being sued for libel.

The younger Netanyahu argues that he was not able to defend himself in the case because staff at the Prime Minister’s Residence never delivered court papers to him, a claim already rejected by several courts.

Yair — 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 sued for sharing posts on social media claiming Alkalay — a witness in the most serious of the three corruption cases against Benjamin Netanyahu — was “a mole” working with the state prosecution against his father.

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

The Tel Aviv District Court and the Supreme Court have both rejected appeals by Netanyahu, finding that the letter was delivered as required, as Netanyahu was living at the Prime Minister’s Residence at the time.

He was initially ordered to pay Alkalay NIS 250,000 ($73,000), and pay an additional NIS 29,250 ($8,500) in court fees. Since then, his appeals and delays in paying the amount have seen the sum it increase to NIS 420,000, according to the HaAyin HaShevi’it newspaper, which first reported on Netanyahu’s request for the state to foot the bill.

In the past, he was offered a chance to pay only a total of NIS 5,000 ($1,460) and then to be permitted to file his overdue defense, but turned down that proposal.

The Tel Aviv prosecutor’s office said in a statement that it had received a request from Netanyahu’s legal representatives to cover the cost, but noted that the Supreme Court had already ruled that the libel lawsuit letter was delivered as required.

“In the coming days, the state’s response will be delivered to the applicant’s legal representative,” the statement said.

The gate at the top of Balfour Street, leading to the Prime Minister’s Residence, December 24, 2021, in Jerusalem. (David Horovitz / Times of Israel)

A statement on behalf of Netanyahu said he was being forced to pay hundreds of thousands of shekels, “due to negligence” at the Prime Minister’s Residence.

It said Netanyahu’s claim for the state to pay his bill is “based on a simple fact: No one at the Prime Minister’s Residence claims he delivered the lawsuit notification to Yair, as is required by law, and therefore he was denied his basic right to defend himself.”

Last month, the Supreme Court threw out Netanyahu’s appeal against a district court ruling that he must pay the libel sum, rejecting his claim that he had not properly notified of the libel case. It noted that Netanyahu, 31, was listed at the time by the Interior Ministry as living at the official residence.

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)

Alkalay 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 telecom, in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister and his family by 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.

Last month, he was in court to face former MK Stav Shafir in their mutual lawsuits against each other. Shaffir is suing Netanyahu for sexual harassment over posts he wrote about her on Twitter. Netanyahu lodged a retaliatory lawsuit over Shaffir’s own social media posts.

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