A social activist apologized in court Tuesday for saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought a fake passport for his controversial son Yair to open bank accounts abroad, but the younger Netanyahu said this was not enough.
In September, Yair Netanyahu filed a suit seeking 140,000 shekels ($39,200) in compensation for a Facebook post by Binyamin claiming that the prime minister asked the Mossad to issue the phony passport.
On Tuesday, Binyamin apologized at a preliminary hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court and admitted that the post was false, but Yair Netanyahu said this was not a full apology.
In a Facebook post from August 2016, Binyamin alleged that Benjamin Netanyahu phoned the Mossad chief and requested the fake-name passport, citing security reasons, but actually for the bank accounts.
Binyamin wrote that the elder Netanyahu asked for the passport “to protect the hedonist son who travels the world and wanted him to have a fake identity.” He then accused Yair of using the passport to help the Netanyahu family “evade taxes, launder money and accept payments from all sorts of interested parties who wanted to grease the prime minister of Israel with bribes and illegal contributions.”
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Binyamin then cited the Panama Papers, which he claimed exposed that the prime minister holds millions of dollars and euros, given to him by vested interests, in tax shelters around the world in Yair’s false identity.
The lawsuit says Binyamin has displayed a “fierce and burning hatred toward the petitioner and his family.”
In response, Binyamin said the suit was filed after a long delay, a year after the post was written and only after he petitioned the High Court of Justice against the decision not to question the prime minister as a criminal suspect in the so-called submarines affair.
But at Tuesday’s hearing, Binyamin's apology was not enough for Yair Netanyahu.
“He doesn't say it never happened. I've never been to Panama. The farthest south I've been in America is San Diego. I don't have a clue about the High Court [case] on submarines. When I saw it on Facebook, I went to [my lawyer] and said I demand an apology.”
Binyamin told the court that the lawsuit was intended to silence him, and a court ruling would have implications for freedom of expression. The judge set a date for the first session for witnesses to testify, December 10, when both Yair Netanyahu and Binyamin are expected to be questioned.
Yair Netanyahu, who has security guards, a car and a driver at the public’s expense, was brought into the courtroom through a private back entrance reserved for judges. He has already gained fame for a secret recording in which he is heard visiting Tel Aviv strip clubs.
The judge also told the Prime Minister’s Office to inform the court on whether Yair Netanyhau had ever been issued a diplomatic passport.
In his defense, Binyamin has said he was only quoting other sources who published the accusations. After receiving a letter from Netanyahu’s lawyer threatening a lawsuit, Binyamin offered to remove the post and publish an apology. Binyamin erased the post but said Netanyahu’s lawyer demanded an apology that he would dictate himself, as well as 2,000 shekels in compensation.
Yair Netanyahu is also being sued by the left-wing think tank Molad over a Facebook post he published last year, and Yair has countersued. The judge sent both sides to mediation, which recently failed once again. A hearing in this case is scheduled for later this month.
The case revolves around a response to a post titled "Five things you didn't know about the heir to the throne, Yair Netanyahu" on "61," a Facebook page run by Molad. The 26-year-old called the organization "the radical anti-Zionist organization Molad, which is funded by the Israel Destruction Fund and the European Union."
Molad describes itself as a site providing critical material to Israelis on socioeconomic issues and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In another post Yair Netanyahu wrote, referring to the group the New Israel Fund, that "the Israel Destruction Fund, funded by [financier George] Soros and the European Union, is threatening me in the style of the Sicilian mafia. Actually, the term Bolsheviks suits them better."