Defamation lawsuits: what can be learned from the Netanyahu and Olmert case

Defamation lawsuits: what can be learned from the Netanyahu and Olmert case
Defamation lawsuits: what can be learned from the Netanyahu and Olmert case

The judgments in the case of Ehud Olmert and in the case of Yair Netanyahu suddenly raised the field of defamation lawsuits to the public agenda. This field is very successful, and the golden age is only getting longer, if you consider the amount of claims that are filed every year. However, regarding the amounts, the success story is much less dizzying.

The defamation law sets a maximum threshold for every libelous publication: approximately NIS 140,000 without proof of damage, and NIS 280,000 if it is proven that the purpose of the defamation was to harm. In practice, the amounts awarded are much lower. The average amount in the claims that are clarified and accepted is tens of thousands of shekels. Along the way, the judge will try to convince the parties to settle for an apology, and sometimes the lawsuit can be dismissed while charging the plaintiff with court costs and the defendant party’s attorney’s fees.

● The court ruled: Olmert will pay the Netanyahu family 62.5 thousand shekels
● The Supreme Court rejected Yair Netanyahu’s appeal; will pay about NIS 400,000 to the former Walla editor
● Two thirds of defamation lawsuits are accepted or end in settlement; The average compensation: tens of thousands of shekels

About six months ago, I wrote here that the law prohibiting defamation was turned by the judicial authority into an unnecessary, senseless and worthless law, which wastes the money of the plaintiffs and the defendants in vain.

If you are not rich, or for you it is not a matter that is worth investing a lot of time and tens of thousands of shekels that will not return – it is strongly recommended to avoid filing a defamation lawsuit.

Is the management of the procedure worth the result?

Let us take the case of the members of the Netanyahu family against Ehud Olmert. Attorney Yossi Cohen, attorney for the Netanyahu family, issued a statement stating: “Another plot of lies against Prime Minister Netanyahu, his wife and his family has been shattered. Today it was established that Ehud Olmert lied.”

Well, to be honest, it has not been established that Olmert lied when he attributed mental illness to Binyamin, Sara and Yair Netanyahu. All that the verdict stated is that “Mr. Olmert did not meet the burden assigned to him to prove the claim ‘I spoke the truth'”. That is, the burden of proof rests on the shoulders of the defendant, and he did not do so.

Would it have been worthwhile for the Netanyahu family to go through the particularly embarrassing procedure, when at the end they would pocket 62.5 thousand shekels together and another 10,000 shekels in court costs and 25 thousand shekels in attorney’s fees?

For my friend, it is clear to me that Ehud Olmert knew that the lawsuit against him would be accepted. Olmert – a very affluent Jew, former prime minister and with a personal enmity to the Netanyahu family – conducted the procedure knowing that he would lose in the end. But the show was worth 62.5 thousand shekels to him, not including court costs and attorney’s fees. All the media covered the show that Olmert and his lawyer organized for us.

The former media consultant Nir Hefetz who provided the “goods” appeared in the courtroom. Dr. Uzi Arad, an employee of the residence of the former prime minister Sylvi Gansia, family physician Dr. Zvi Herman Berkovitch and Prof. Shaul Kimchi also appeared to discuss the mental state and biographies of the Netanyahu couple and their son Yair.

I will not repeat the very embarrassing details that emerged during the hearing of the evidence, and I will even point out that the judge Amit Yariv did not refer at all in his ruling to all these testimonies, which extended over a whole day of hearings. “Even if I assumed that the factual descriptions of the witnesses Dr. Arad, Mr. Hefetz and Mrs. Gansia are correct – even then, a medical diagnosis cannot be derived from them, not even narrowly, without an appropriate opinion.”

In my opinion, Olmert wanted to humiliate the Netanyahu family. This was the purpose of the procedure, this is what his lawyer did when he interrogated Bibi, Sarah and Yair – and this is how Olmert conducted himself throughout the procedure. A payment of NIS 97.5 thousand was definitely worthwhile for him. In my impression, as someone who saw Olmert in the discussion hall all day long, the 77-year-old Olmert enjoyed every moment.

This is one of the prices of filing defamation lawsuits. There is immunity from lawsuits on pleadings and evidence in court, and the parties who are aware of this – allow themselves to go wild. Thus, for example, Olmert mentioned the following medical terms in the defense in relation to the Netanyahu family: “Napoleon syndrome” and/or “madness of grandeur” and/or “megalomania” and/or “narcissism” and/or “schizophrenia” and/or “paranoia ” and/or “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” (OCD) and/or “Personality Disorders” and/or “Shared Psychosis” and/or “Shared Psychosis” and/or “Sociopathy” and/or “schizoid” and/or “generalized anxiety disorder” and/or “tantrums” and/or “IDE” and/or “anxiety” and/or “manic depression” and/or “bipolar disorder” and/or “Depression” and/or “psychosis” and/or “neurosis” and/or “addiction” and/or “other terms”.

As Judge Yariv wrote, Olmert did not at all try to pay off the bill and the high bar he set for himself.

Not every blasphemy is grounds under the law against defamation

The law states that defamation is something whose publication may, among other things, “humiliate a person in the eyes of mankind or make him an object of hatred, contempt or ridicule on their part”. Despite this, the ruling reduced the ability to sue for any blasphemy. This is what the opposing judge also wrote.

A person’s right to freedom of opinion to be protected from lawsuits, but where is the line crossed? Good faith is required here. According to Judge Yariv, Olmert does not have the defense of good faith. “Not in every case where a psychiatric illness is attributed to someone, this will justify liability according to the law against defamation. Things depend, to a large extent, on the way it is worded, and whether the reasonable listener can understand that it is a form of expression (even if rude and inappropriate), or a clinical diagnosis. The more amorphous the nature of the expression, and the more inclined to the popular expression of attributing a psychiatric illness – I believe that it is more correct to see it as an expression of opinion; the more precise and clinical the expression – it should be seen as a statement of fact.”

Judge Yariv gave examples: “So, for example, in the case where someone says about an unknown person that ‘he is completely crazy’, ‘the man is not sane’ or ‘the man needs pills’ – my tendency would be to see the words as an expression of an opinion whose style should be restricted, but which can be defended By virtue of the provisions of section 15 of the law. On the other hand, when the publication attributes to the victim a concrete psychiatric hospitalization, or attributes to him a certain type of psychiatric treatment (‘so-and-so regularly takes anti-anxiety pills’), there will be room to examine the truth of the things and see them as establishing a fact.”

Procrastination makes it difficult for a person to clear his name

Another problem we did not deal with is the speed of the procedure. A person defamed in the media wants to clear his name. In today’s reality, when the afternoon news outnumbers the morning news, it is true that the Netanyahu family’s claim was revealed relatively quickly, worthy of note, within a year and a half – but this is an “eternity” in terms of today’s media. And this is another claim that became clear very quickly. What is said about claims that have been known for four years or more? Take, for example, Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawsuit against Ben Caspit.

The lawsuit was filed in December 2018, and only at the end of the month is the second pre-trial hearing expected to take place. An evidentiary hearing is not yet in sight. You must be asking yourself what the lawsuit is about, well – you understand the problem. Torture of the law exists not only in criminal proceedings, it is also in civil proceedings. Who will care two years from now if Netanyahu or Caspit win the lawsuit. In light of the passage of time, I am convinced that the parties themselves have already lost interest in it, and are now only acting out of inertia.

The article is Hebrew

Tags: Defamation lawsuits learned Netanyahu Olmert case

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