Court Rules No Facebook Post Immunity for Journalist Sued by Netanyahu

The journalist's argument that 'the Facebook scene is exempt from the applicability of the ban on libel to the point of immunity ... is too sweeping and far-reaching for my liking,' the judge writes

Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara in Jerusalem to receive U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, January 21, 2018.
Emil Salman

The Supreme Court on Sunday refused journalist Igal Sarna’s request for the right to appeal lower court rulings ordering him to pay compensation for libeling the prime minister and his wife on Facebook.

This means the original ruling of the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, which ordered Sarna to pay the Netanyahus 115,000 shekels (currently $32,857) is final.

Supreme Court Justice Isaac Amit rejected Sarna’s claim that both the magistrate’s court and the district court, to which he had appealed, did not address the differences between posting on social networks and on publishing something in the mainstream media, and did not address the media revolution the social networks had caused.

“Sarna’s argument that the Facebook scene is exempt from the applicability of the ban on libel to the point of immunity for every advertiser and person who posts is too sweeping and far-reaching for my liking,” Amit wrote.

“Granting Facebook posts immunity from the ban on defamation reflects a somewhat romanticized view of the virtual public square, with all its tumult, smells and colors. Accepting Sarna’s approach to the Facebook scene would mean a total loosening of the reins, and instead of ...being flooded with a thousand flowers of free expression, it is more likely that the heavy stench of overflowing sewage will overwhelm the discourse.”

Israeli journalist Igal Sarna arrives at the court before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara (not seen) arrive to testify in a libel lawsuit they filed against Sarna, at the Magistrate Court in Tel Aviv, March 14, 2017.
Moti Milrod

In addition, Amit ruled that Sarna’s case did not raise a complex issue of principle that justified a second appeal. The issue of claims against being silenced could be worthy of a hearing in principle, but this case was not the appropriate case for it.

“Indeed, the filing of a lawsuit by the prime minister against a private individual raises inherent concerns about a demand to silence someone, given the differences in power between the sides. But in this case, I’m satisfied that the claim before us is missing some of the classic characteristics of a lawsuit aimed at silencing,” Amit concluded.