Court Urged to Subpoena Ex-chief of Staff in Libel Case

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An Israeli court was petitioned on Sunday to subpoena the former leader of the Israeli army and other retired senior officers in the libel suit of former army spokesman Avi Benayahu against two newspapers, Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth, and the McCann Erickson public relations firm.

The Central District Court in Lod was urged to subpoena former IDF Chief of Staff Lieut. Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi and the other former officers in the libel suit of former Israel Defense Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. (res.) Avi Benayahu.

Benayahu’s libel suit concerns an advertisement that appeared in the two newspapers in early 2011.

Signed by “Citizens who do not personally know Galant,” the ad criticized Benayahu, Ashkenazi and Harpaz for their alleged role in scuttling the appointment of Maj. Gen (res.) Yoav Galant as chief of staff after Ashkenazi. The ad alleged that the “putsch in the Defense Ministry has (apparently) succeeded.”

The request was presented in a motion by McCann’s attorneys. Among the other officers they want supboened are Col. (res.) Erez Weiner and Lieut. Col. Boaz Harpaz, a reserve officer and an associate of Ashkenazi’s.

Benayahu’s libel suit is just one of the fronts in a war of the generals that erupted during the tenures of Ashkenazi and former Defense Minister Ehud Barak and shows no sign of abating. On another front, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein has ordered a police probe into the activities of Ashkenazzi and his aides. In an affidavit submitted to the court last week, Barak accused Ashkenazi of heading a group of officers who worked to thwart the elected government via methods “that were prima facie criminal.”

McCann’s attorneys have also asked the court to subpoena Galant, Yoni Koren, Barak’s former bureau chief, Barak’s military secretary, Lt. Col. Uri Cohen (who is today serving in this same capacity under Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon with the rank of Colonel) and Lt. Col. Yariv Pinchas, military secretary of Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan.

The motion stated that the defendant, McCann Erickson, “claims (as can be understood from the ad) that senior IDF officers – including former IDF Chief of Staff Ashkenazi, his assistant and the IDF spokesman (the plaintiff in this libel suit, Brig. Gen. [res.] Benayahu) – together with Harpaz and the journalists in their clique operated in opposition to the country’s political leaders, as well as in opposition to the Defense Minister and Maj. Gen. (res.) Galant, in order to thwart the latter’s appointment as [the next] chief of staff.”

Benayahu’s denial of this claim makes Ashkenazi, Weiner and Harpaz “central, and crucial, witnesses in these proceedings,” the motion said. McCann’s attorneys claimed that they had asked to meet with Ashkenazi and Weiner, in order to receive affidavits from each of them, but their request was rejected. Harpaz also refused to submit an affidavit, according to a document submitted last May to the attorneys.

They also pointed out that they had asked the court to subpoena Galant so that he could describe the “manipulative manner in which the plaintiff (Benayahu) maneuvered the media in order to hurt him and [to describe] how ... Ashkenazi and the plaintiff worked together in order to prevent his appointment as [the next] chief of staff.” Although he met with the attorneys, Galant refused to submit an affidavit to them.

In their motion, the lawyers included Harpaz’s reaction to the draft of the state comptroller’s report, submitted in May 2012 by then-Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, in which he claimed that he did not initiate the activities aimed at “putting a stop to the ‘humiliating behavior’ allegedly demonstrated toward the [former] chief of staff.” According to Harpaz, the “idea of collecting incriminating evidence against [Barak, his ‘people’ and Galant] and disseminating it in the media was thought up by ... Benayahu, who was then IDF spokesman and who was the [former] chief of staff’s confidant.” Harpaz claimed, in his response to the draft of the state comptroller’s report, that “this is what [former] Chief of Staff Ashkenazi explicitly told me over the telephone (in one of our many telephone conversations).”

The Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper’s military commentator Alex Fishman also submitted an affidavit to the court in the context of the libel suit. Fishman termed the behavior displayed by Ashkenazi’s bureau and by Benayahu in connection with the Harpaz affair “subversive and unworthy.”

McCann’s attorneys have also requested that the court subpoena several journalists, including Ayala Hasson of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, who refused to submit an affidavit but who has stated that, if she is subpoenaed, she will tell the whole truth. In addition, they requested that the court subpoena Yedioth Ahronoth’s military correspondent Yossi Yehoshua, Ben Caspit, who, at the time, was a commentator with the Maariv newspaper, Ronen Bergman, who together with journalist Dan Margalit, wrote the book The Pit, which provides a behind-the-scenes look at the power struggle between Barak and Ashkenazi, Hanan Greenberg, military correspondent of ynet, Tal Lev-Ram, military correspondent for Israel’s Army Radio station, and Yoav Yitzhak of the News1 website.

Boaz Harpaz, the alleged forger at the center of the war of the generals. Credit: Alon Ron

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