The Supreme Court yesterday rejected a libel lawsuit filed by the former head of the Israel Bar Association who sued the tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth for using the term "gang" to describe him and his associates.
In 2006, Dror Hoter-Ishay filed suit accusing the popular daily of libel in an expose about a disputed land deal. The article in question, originally published in 1997, alleged that Hoter-Ishay and contractor David Appel purchased thousands of dunams of "green areas," parts of which were later rezoned, in order to make way for commercial properties.
A Yedioth follow-up story quoted former minister Yossi Sarid, who was then a member of Knesset, saying: "The Hoter-Ishay gang is likely to destroy these green areas."
In response, Hoter-Ishay sued Yedioth; the reporters, Mordechai Gilat, Ariella Ringel-Hoffman, and Molly Camprier-Kritz; and Sarid. The lawsuit against Sarid was dropped after the legislator issued an apology.
In its ruling yesterday, the Supreme Court said that linking the name of an individual to a "gang" does not constitute libel or slander.
"The phrase 'gang' is often used in a political and/or social context in order to describe a group of individuals acting collectively in promoting an agenda, joint objective, or any other matter through various means," wrote Justice Miriam Naor, who was joined on the panel by Justices Asher Grunis and Salim Joubran.
The Tel Aviv District Court, which first heard the case, ruled that the four articles did not constitute libel, though it did determine that quoting Sarid as using the word "gang" in the headline was inflammatory and unbefitting the content of the story. As such, it was aimed at harming Hoter-Ishay's good name.
The court ordered the newspaper to pay Hoter-Ishay NIS 30,000 in compensation, far short of the original sum of NIS 1.8 million which the attorney sought in damages.
Hoter-Ishay appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which accepted Yedioth's position that censoring comments by a member of Knesset would be tantamount to an infringement of freedom of speech and the public's right to know.
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