Court Hears Former Netanyahu Residence Caretaker's Libel Case Against PM's Aides

Meni Naftali is demanding 500,000 shekels for defamation.

Olivier Fitoussi

The Herzliya Magistrates Court held its first session on Wednesday in the libel suit filed by the former chief caretaker of the prime minister’s residence Meni Naftali, who is suing a number of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s advisors and lawyers, as well as two employees of the residence and the Likud movement.

The hearing was held after a mediation process between the sides failed. The next hearing in the case was set for April 12.

Naftali is asking for 500,000 shekels in damages in response to statements made by the defendants in the media, which blamed Naftali for the high costs of running the residences, mentioned in a report by the state comptroller before the last Knesset election.

Last week, the Jerusalem Labor Court ruled that the Netanyahus had violated Naftali’s rights as an employee and awarded him 170,000 shekels in damages. Judge Dita Pruginin described the behavior of Sara Netanyahu as harmful and abusive.

Naftali is suing Netanyahu advisors Nir Hefetz and Yaakov Borovsky, as well as his personal lawyer David Shimron, for their remarks at a news conference when the comptroller’s report was released. “Meni Naftali filed a false affidavit with the Labor Court,” they said. “Its reliability must be examined by the police ... There is no battle here by the prime minister against Naftali, there is mudslinging on the part of Meni Naftali against the prime minister and his wife.”

Judge Limor Zahava Bibi-Maman criticized Naftali for not appending a video of the news conference to his suit, saying it was not clear what statements were attributed to each person. But the judge did not dismiss the suit and asked for Channel 1 to provide the material.

Yossi Cohen, an attorney who is also one of the defendants and represents others in the case, attacked Naftali, saying they would present evidence of sexual harassment on Naftali’s part, as well as serious acts of physical and verbal violence. Pruginin ruled she found no basis or evidence whatsoever for the claims of sexual harassment leveled against Naftali.

Naftali also denied he played a part in the increased expenses, saying his position was a low-level one in practice, similar to a janitor. All the expenses were approved by the relevant superiors, in particular Ezra Saidoff, the deputy director general of operations in the Prime Minister’s Office, states the suit. He further provides examples that it was Sara Netanyahu, and others, who were responsible for the inflated expenses in the residences – accusing them of bringing in a famous chef to prepare meals, and when the budget would not cover his services, the Netanyahus inflated the number of guests served to cover the cost.

Among the many examples given as libelous, Naftali accuses Hefetz of telling Army Radio that the inflated expenses occurred only during his period as caretaker; while Cohen told Channel 2 news he had received clear evidence from dozens of people that Naftali was “a liar, not credible and provocative.”