Netanyahu’s Son Loses Appeal to Reverse 250,000 Shekel Libel Ruling

Yair Netanyahu accused former Walla editor of conspiring to oust his father from office

Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit
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Yair Netanyahu in 2018.
Yair Netanyahu in 2018.Credit: Moti Milrod
Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit

The Tel Aviv District Court on Sunday rejected an appeal filed by Yair Netanyahu, leaving intact a magistrate’s court order instructing him to pay former Walla news website editor Avi Alkalay 250,000 shekels ($73,000) in damages for defamatory posts as well as 30,000 shekels of court expenses.

The ruling comes after Alkalay filed a libel suit after Yair Netanyahu, the son of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claimed on social media that Alkalay was tied to the philanthropic Wexner Foundation and a conspiracy to unseat the prime minister. In February 2020, the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff after finding that Netanyahu had failed to submit a defense more than three months after the lawsuit was filed.

Netanyahu did not accept the ruling, arguing through lawyer Yossi Cohen, that he had never received the petition and was unaware that a libel suit had been filed against him. He asked the court “to rescind its ruling in the name of justice.”

According to Netanyahu, Alkalay deceived the court, showing “bad faith” when he presented a document confirming the delivery of the petition, saying the document was incomplete because there was no signature from a recipient. Cohen explained that “employees at the official residence of the prime minister cannot sign off on registered mail, and that no one there is allowed to receive mail. Everything has to be delivered to the Prime Minister’s Office.”

A year ago, Judge Kochava Levi rejected Netanyahu’s request to rescind the ruling as well as his claim to have not received the petition. She noted that it had been sent by registered mail, as required. Netanyahu appealed to the district court, reiterating his claims and adding that the damages being awarded exceeded the usual amount in libel cases. Alkalay rejected these arguments through his attorney, Ron Leventhal, who asked that the ruling remain intact.

Judges Einat Ravid, Naftali Shilo and Ilan Dafadi said on Sunday that “Netanyahu should have determined where to claim a specific argument and to use it in his request to rescind the ruling. He must accept the ruling and not re-use the same argument for the examination of the court in the course of an appeal over that ruling.”

At the same time, the judges noted that even if they had chosen to hear the case again with the argument that the petition had not been delivered, taking into account the documents already presented to the magistrate’s court, they would not have intervened in the lower court’s decision.

The judges also rejected Netanyahu’s arguments about excessive damages. According to the court, the posts made severe allegations, accusing Alkalay of criminal wrongdoing that was responsible for spurious indictments being filed against the former prime minister. “The fact that the distributor of these posts was the son of the prime minister gave them more credibility in comparison to posts by other people, so that the harm caused by his posts to Alkalay’s name was very great,” they said in the ruling.

The echo chamber of the appellant, namely the number of followers of his posts, and of people who can share his postings when urged to do so, is quite large, numbering around 65,000,” noted the judges.

The allegations posted by Netanyahu came from blogger Avshalom Zelinger. Zelinger claimed that Alkalay, who was Walla’s editor-in-chief during the time Benjamin Netanyahu allegedly traded regulatory favors in exchange for positive coverage by Walla (Case 4000), was working for the Wexner Foundation and was part of a conspiracy against the prime minister. Zelinger repeatedly called for Alkalay’s arrest and alleged that the editor had fabricated correspondence with former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua.

Saying he never attended any training course offered by the Wexner Foundation or had joined any initiative to unseat the prime minister, Alkalay sued Netanyahu and Zelinger for half a million shekels. Netanyahu said he had not read Zelinger’s posts and had only shared them. The court ruled that sharing was tantamount to publishing for all intents and purposes.

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