Benjamin Netanyahu sues journalist for £69,000 in damages over claim wife pushed him out of car

Israeli prime minister and wife Sara Netanyahu accuse prominent columnist of ‘disgusting, cynical, low, mean and inordinate attempt’ to embarrass them

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Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has testified in court to deny a journalist’s claim that his wife kicked him out of a car during a fight, risking official security protocol. 

Journalist Igal Sarna is being sued by Mr Netanyahu and his wife Sara over a 2015 Facebook post which said that Mrs Netanyahu ordered the prime minister’s convoy to pull over on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway so she could eject him in the middle of a furious row.

At the start of the delayed libel case on Tuesday the couple accused Mr Sarna of a “disgusting, cynical, low, mean and inordinate” lie intended to “shame... revile them and embarrass them publicly”, Haaretz reported. 

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu meets Theresa May

They also said he had continuously targeted their family with a “biblical size flood of lies” over the last 20 years. 

Mr Sarna, who writes for Yediot Aharonot newspaper, stood by his claim, citing “reliable sources” including a member of the prime minister’s security detail. He said witnesses were afraid to testify in his defence because they are “afraid.”

When asked why he posted the story to Facebook rather than pitching it to his newspaper, Mr Sarna said he had believed it to be too low profile. His lawyer pointed out that the libel case is relatively small fry compared to other claims made against Mr Netanyahu in media. 

The Netanyahus are seeking 280,000 shekels (£69,000) in damages from the journalist.

“Many things have been written, sometimes much worse, but in those cases you did nothing. Why?” he asked the prime minister. 

“Because you respect democracy, freedom of expression?”, at which journalists in the packed courtroom laughed.

The case against Mr Sarna is just the latest chapter in Mr Netanyahu’s continuing war with the Israeli media. He has repeatedly claimed that individual journalists and news organisations seek to drive him out of office with manufactured scandals. 

Mr Netanyahu is also currently embroiled in several police investigations into reports which first surfaced in Israeli media that he allegedly accepted inappropriate gifts from business moguls and tried to negotiate a deal with Yedioth Ahronoth for more favourable coverage of his administration in 2014.

In 2016, a former housekeeper in the Netanyahu household was awarded damages after a court found that Sara Netanyahu had been abusive towards him and “subjected him to irrational demands.”

Another hearing is scheduled for May 8. 

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