The Prime Minister’s Office must provide Haaretz with the schedules of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meetings with his lawyers, a judge ruled on Wednesday, granting a petition submitted by Haaretz and Hazlaha, the Movement for the Promotion of a Fair Society.
Jerusalem District Court Judge Oded Shaham, who is a member of the three-judge panel hearing Netanyahu’s corruption cases, said the information “serves a clear public interest,” as it concerns the activities of a serving prime minister. Shaham ordered Netanyahu to provide the schedules by September.
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Shaham also ordered the PMO to pay Haaretz and Hatzlaha legal expenses of 10,000 shekels ($3,000) each.
In his ruling, Shaham criticized the PMO for its refusal to provide the schedules, saying that it was in the public interest. The amount of time Netanyahu devotes to the legal proceedings against him “is a matter in which a rousing and active public debate is being conducted,” said Shaham. “Even assuming that it is not possible to know how much of all the prime minister’s meetings with his lawyers dealt with his trial, the public interest in releasing the information remains in force.”
The judge also rejected Netanyahu’s claims that exposing the information would violate his privacy. “Even if the providing of such quantitative data, which does not include information on the content of the meetings, has a dimension of violation of privacy – it is located on the margins of the right to privacy,” wrote Shaham.
The Prime Minister’s Office also defended its refusal to reveal the information with the claim the handling of the request would require excessive resources. The judge rejected this argument, saying it was difficult to accept that the request required unreasonable resources and would interfere with the PMO carrying out its primary duties.
The petition was filed in 2019, after requests to release the schedules according to the Freedom of Information Law were left unanswered by the PMO. The PMO initially claimed the schedules could not be provided for security reasons, but later changed its argument said it would violate Netanyahu’s privacy. The petitioners argued that Netanyahu’s time is a public resource and this justified receiving the information on how much time he spends on his personal needs at the expense of the time intended for working for the public good.
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Netanyahu’s lawyer Yossi Cohen represented him in the court hearing on the petition. Cohen said the request for the information caused “disgust and discomfort, because the court is basically being asked to order to provide the plaintiffs with information on the private meetings of the prime minister with his attorneys, with the goal of harming him. Or in other words: They want the prime minister to provide them with ammunition that they will use against him."