Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, his elder son and wife attended a preliminary hearing Monday on the libel suit they filed against former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for claiming they were mentally ill.
The Netanyahus sued Olmert for 837,000 shekels ($269,000) after he said the former prime minister, his wife Sara and son Yair were mentally ill and repeatedly refused to apologize. In his response to the court, Olmert argued that his statement wasn’t slanderous, because the family had been in psychological treatment, and what he said was therefore true. He also demanded that the court waive medical confidentiality rules for all three plaintiffs so that their mental health could be verified.
At the start of the hearing, Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Amit Yariv asked Olmert what he based his claim on when he said “what can’t be fixed is the mental illness of the prime minister and his wife and son. That’s not fixable.”
Olmert responded that “I followed their actions, I listened to recordings of the family members, I consulted with experts and with people close to them who know them well. They described to me behavior that … is known as abnormal behavior, crazy behavior.”
Yariv tried to reach a compromise between Olmert and the Netanyahu family, but to no avail. It was then decided that the case will go to court.
While the Netanyahu family agreed to the wording proposed by the judge, Olmert insisted on a different phrasing that would have made it clear he was not apologizing for what he said.
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Olmert would have refused to pay for the Netanyahu family's legal expenses even if a compromise had been reached, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.
The source added that the defense has “materials” which support the accuracy of the claims for which Olmert is being sued.
The lawyer for the Netanyahu family, Yossi Cohen, said he “does not understand how a man writes calmly that Sara Netanyahu was in a mental health hostel. We have nothing against Olmert. He went through difficult things.” But, added Cohen, “a family sits [here] that I think is one of the most magnificent families in Israel, and they have to hear a former prime minister – who's past is not clean by the way – call them mentally ill?”
Cohen added: “In a different country Olmert would have been arrested.” To which the judge responded: “Thank god we don't live in that country.”
In a request filed Sunday, the Netanyahus argued that coming to court would be difficult due to the necessary security arrangements. But Yariv said such a last-minute request was unacceptable. “The date and time of the hearing were set over two months ago,” he pointed out.
Moreover, he added sarcastically, “the way to avoid delays stemming from security arrangements is obviously to leave the house earlier.”
He also rejected their request that they be allowed to participate via Zoom due to the rampant coronavirus.