Is Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Igal Sarna standing behind a Facebook post regarding Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu and the events on Route 1?
In his defense submitted in court last Tuesday to a lawsuit by the couple, Sarna claims the post is true, or that its main thrust is true, but argues that in any case the text should be judged according to the genre of Facebook posts, which provides fertile ground for “conspiracy theories, the writer’s imagination, tales and jokes designed to emphasize acutely critical points of view” that may take the guise of literary frivolity.
In his defense against a libel suit, Sarna spells out what had been only a rumor until now – that a secret agreement was signed, by attorney Yaakov Neeman, between Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara after the “hot tape” scandal. (In 1993, Netanyahu admitted to an affair with his media adviser Ruth Bar, after an anonymous caller claimed to have a compromising videotape of the two.) The agreement makes various actions by the prime minister contingent on his wife’s approval.
In March, the Netanyahus sued Sarna for damages of 280,000 shekels at the Tel Aviv Magistrates Court for libel, after a Facebook post in which he hinted at an incident in which Sara halted the prime minister’s convoy traveling on Route 1 and forced the prime minister to get out of his car. The Netanyahus claimed Sarna had done them wrong in a “loathsome, cynical, low, wicked and uninhibited manner” with “[the practically stated aim] of trying to shame the defendants” and humiliate them publicly by publishing “ugly lies in which there is not a shred of truth.”
In his defense submitted Tuesday, Sarna claims that it isn’t online posts that the Netanyahus care about but the person behind them – he, himself, who they had marked as their “hostile and incessant critic,” and against whom they now had “ostensible grounds to eliminate him economically and perhaps physically too, through the truth police of Bibi Netanyahu,” so he would stop criticizing the policies and ways of the prime minister and his wife, and would simply disappear.
Sarna hinted that Netanyahu had also brought the battle to the paper he works for, Yedioth Ahronoth, which is just as loathed by the prime minister as is its owner Noni Mozes, Sarna claimed.
He also took the occasion of the defense statement to attack Netanyahu and his wife over their conduct, and stated that an agreement exists “following Benjamin Netanyahu’s public admission, on television, that he had cheated on his wife Sara Netanyahu and had an intimate relationship with another woman [the ‘hot tape affair’].” According to the agreement, Sarna wrote, Netanyahu is constrained in his activities, including in respect to senior appointments, which he cannot make without Sara Netanyahu’s approval.
The journalist also claims that Netanyahu may not travel abroad, including on national missions, unless his wife comes along. She also has veto power over who joins Netanyahu on his plane, which is what prevented Justice Minister Ayalet Shaked from riding on the prime minister’s plane, Sarna claims. According to him, the spectacle “of a country’s leader being controlled [by his wife] or sharing control over his reign with his wife is not unknown in the international political world,” citing the examples of Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena, and Argentina’s Juan and Eva Peron.
Sarna argues that the public has an interest in the matter because it is “unreasonable for so many extreme instances to happen in respect to the family unit of the Netanyahu couple that have immediate influence on processes involving the fate and state of mind of the nation and area.”
Is Sarna standing behind the Facebook post? That is not clear and Sarna appends no evidence. In his defense, he writes that the post “is truthful, was published in good faith based on proper and credible sources and... constitutes a subject with similar or identical characteristics to known episodes from the plaintiffs’ family life.”
In the following section, Sarna writes that “the gist of the post is true and if it has inaccurate details, they are swallowed by the general truth of the post, and the hard core of the story is true,” whether or not it happened exactly or similarly to that described in the post.
Sarna raises another argument in his statement of defense, that Facebook posts do not even have to adhere to reality. “The social media allow less meticulous, restrained publications than the traditional media do... The self-irony of the social network and its status as slightly rash journalism that casts doubt on everything, and does not take itself completely seriously, allows for writing as a sort of parody and allegory. Facebook post readers do not take everything written there with utter seriousness... The post should be judged by these rules, based on which the post can also be seen as allegory, hyperbole, exaggeration, ridicule, not necessary an accurate reflection of actual reality, but as possible reality.”
“The crass lies, wild smears and incitement Igal Sarna published about the prime minister and his wife dangerously crossed every possible boundary,” stated Yossi Cohen, legal counsel to the Netanyahus, in response. “Instead of apologizing and expressing remorse, Sarna is exploiting, wickedly and maliciously, the immunity conferred by the statement of defense to again issue ugly, poison-filled slander, damaging every ethical criterion and making cynical use of freedom of speech. We are confident that the court will rule that Sarna lied, will accept the claim and impose heavy financial damages and costs, expressing its displeasure at such harmful, dishonest and inhumane conduct.”
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