Analysis |

Farcical Netanyahu-Olmert Libel Trial Is Providing Israel a Public Service

Neither the testimony nor the ultimate verdict is likely to worsen Netanyahu’s political situation. In our warped political reality, he may even benefit, just as he did from his indictment

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu
Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum (WEF), Davos 2014.Credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Ehud Olmert may lose the libel suit that Benjamin Netanyahu’s family filed against him; he most likely can’t prove his claim that the then-prime minister, his wife and one of their sons are “mentally ill people who need psychiatric treatment.” Nevertheless, Netanyahu did us a big favor by suing.

The testimony heard in court Sunday was nauseating and horrifying, reviving grim memories of what we got rid of exactly one year ago Monday – and which may well soon return, but on steroids, driven by an urge for revenge, to settle accounts, to crush, destroy and eliminate rivals and the “fabricators of cases.”

Olmert isn’t someone to shy away from a fight. On the contrary, if a fire were to erupt between him and another person, he’d bring a jerrycan of gasoline instead of a fire extinguisher. In the past, his statements have created much greater problems for him than what the worst possible outcome would be in this case, which is paying damages. He has plenty of money, so he can afford it.

But Olmert, another former prime minister and political has-been who enjoys assailing Netanyahu in interviews, isn’t the story.

The pro-Netanyahu media worked hard Sunday to turn the spotlight on Olmert and tut-tut his crude style. This was a transparent effort to divert attention from the testimony of Dr. Uzi Arad, who was both Netanyahu’s national security advisor and his senior diplomatic advisor, and Nir Hefetz, who was Netanyahu’s former communications advisor.

Both were very closely involved in the family’s activities, whether in their home, in the Prime Minister’s Office, aboard planes or at the White House – Arad in all diplomatic and security discussions, Hefetz in political ones.

Their testimony provided a terrifying picture that would shake the foundations of any Western state – one of personal chaos that spilled into, disrupted and created disarray and damage in every institution of government, even in the most explosive situations. Examples ranged from super-sensitive meetings with senior U.S. officials that weren’t prepared for properly because Sara Netanyahu was unhappy about something, to the issue of stationing metal detectors on the Temple Mount, to the cabinet resolution on the public broadcasting corporation.

These stories are well known in the political and media worlds, but some have never been made public, whether due to lack of evidence or to fear of the Netanyahu family’s violent spin machine. On Sunday, we heard a few of them from the mouths of horses that have fled the stable, as many before them have done.

This wasn’t mud wrestling, as Netanyahu’s spokespeople tried to claim Sunday. It was a description, seemingly authentic, of the deep quagmire into which the state had sunk until a year ago. It described how a prime minister who was weak, submissive, stressed out and vulnerable to pressure was dominated by his wife and son.

Had they been moderating, restraining influences, like Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner in Washington on January 6, 2021, then fine. But they weren’t. Of the three, Netanyahu appears to have been the calmest and most in control of himself.

Properly framing the testimony by Arad and Hefetz is the furthest thing possible from gossip. When these stories were media reports based on anonymous sources, that was one thing. The Netanyahus could claim they were being persecuted. But when Hefetz, for all his problematic character, describes Yair Netanyahu’s horror show in the prime minister’s workroom, that’s another. And when Arad testifies that some of Sara’s well-known whims “exacted a price from Israel,” that’s something else entirely.

Neither the testimony nor the ultimate verdict is likely to worsen Netanyahu’s political situation. In our warped political reality, he may even benefit from them, just as his indictment only helped him. It’s an “only in Israel” situation.

After the three plaintiffs finished testifying, Netanyahu published a self-righteous post in which he played the victim and bemoaned the damage done to him. It ended with him accusing Olmert of offending “numerous Israeli women and men coping with psychological challenges. ... You’ve turned them into a cheap political punching bag.”

It’s nice that Netanyahu remembered to display sensitivity toward the mentally ill. Where was it when he ran campaign ads hundreds or perhaps thousands of times, both on television and online, claiming his rival Benny Gantz was mentally ill? How can we forget the frozen image of Gantz rolling his eyes, or the image of him trying to get a word edgewise into an interview by stuttering the interviewer’s name – “Yo-yo-yo-Yonit”? Those evil innuendos about Gantz were far more serious, and 1,000 times more offensive, than two interviews by the retired Olmert.

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