Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that a court filing demanding that he reveal his appointments book is not in the public interest. He said that Haaretz, which filed the petition in the Jerusalem District Court together with Hatzlaha, Movement for the Promotion of a Fair Society, wanted to use the information against him and to claim that he spends his time in personal meetings connected to his legal case.
Netanyahu was asked to respond to the petition by Tuesday, after the Prime Minister’s Office said that disclosing the diary would constitute an invasion of privacy.
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Netanyahu’s attorney Yossi Cohen wrote in response that the petition “aroused disgust” because the court was being asked in fact to order information on the prime minister’s private meetings to the petitioners for the purpose of hurting him. In other words, Cohen said, “They are asking the prime minister to provide them with weapons they will use against him.”
Cohen added: “The petitioners claim that it is in the public interest and the right of the public to know when and how much time the prime minister spends in meetings with his attorneys outweigh other, competing interests. This is a baseless argument. The prime minister’s private meetings with his attorneys are private information, which is a breach of the Privacy Protection Law to give out. Haaretz and the organization, under the control of an attorney known for his fights against the prime minister, did not give even a hint of the purpose and the reason they were petitioning to receive the information, but one doesn’t have to dig deep to understand that their purpose is to goad the prime minister and hurt him in every possible way.”
Cohen said the information in Netanyahu’s diaries will not help assess the amount of time Netanyahu devotes to his legal defense. “Even if they were handed over, the times of the meetings between the prime minister and his attorneys do not attest to the content of the meetings and whether they did in fact relate to the cases against the prime minister,” Cohen’s response stated.
“Thus, at most, the petitioners could gossip speculatively without any utility to the public – speculations that they make in any case every day in hate-filled articles that blacken the name of the prime minister.” Cohen said the petition was an attempt to present Netanyahu as spending many hours on his private matters and not on state business, which according to Cohen was “utter, ugly foolishness that is not close to reality.”
The information in the diaries might also affect a future request by Netanyahu to be exempted from appearing in court at the evidentiary phase of Netanyahu’s trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. This phase of the trial is expected to begin sometime this year, with court sessions held a few days a week. If the prime minister’s lawyers ask that he be excused from appearing at the proceedings, among other things because it will impair his ability to run the country, the information Haaretz and Hazlaha are seeking could impact the judges’ decision.
In 2019, Haaretz and Hazlaha petitioned the High Court of Justice to receive Netanyahu’s diaries by virtue of the Freedom of Information Law. The petitions were filed after requests from the Prime Minister’s Office for the material went unanswered.
Last month it was reported that the Prime Minister’s Office was still refusing to give the diaries to Haaretz “due to invasion of privacy,” after it had previously refused to do so “because of security considerations.” The petitions stated that the prime minister’s time is a public resource and that the request is justified to know the amount of time he invests in his private matters at the expense of public needs.
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The response to the petition, presented by the Jerusalem district prosecutor’s office, stated that his refusal to turn over the information due to security considerations was supported by the Shin Bet security service. The response also claimed that the Freedom of Information Law permitted information to be concealed that had to do with the personal matters of a public servant.
The judge hearing the petitions by Haaretz and Hazlaha is Oded Shaham, who is also a member of the panel hearing the charges against Netanyahu. In a hearing on November 23, 2020, Shaham proposed a compromise: that the Prime Minister’s Office state the amount of time Netanyahu spends on meetings each year, without stating when and where they take place.
In its response to the court two months ago, the Prime Minister’s Office rejected the compromise proposed by Shaham. The PMO abandoned its security claims and focused on the argument that revealing the content of the diaries would be an invasion of Netanyahu’s privacy. “We do not see the difference between meetings noted in the prime minister’s diary with his attorneys and meetings on medical matters,” the response stated.
The petitioners’ claim that the information in the diaries is a public interest has no bearing under the circumstances. The Prime Minister’s Office also stated that it had checked and found that it “did not have full documentation of these meetings in any case.” Due to the claims of invasion of privacy, Shaham instructed that Netanyahu be added as a respondent in the petition.