Netanyahu vs. Olmert: A Lurid Libel Case Grips Israel

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TEL AVIV — Benjamin Netanyahu, who left office a year ago, his spouse, Sara, and their eldest son, Yair, are suing his predecessor as Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, for libel after his description of them as “mentally sick” and in want of psychiatric therapy.

Mr. Olmert, for his half, is unapologetic concerning the aspersions he forged on the Netanyahu household in two interviews across the time of a bitter and inconclusive election within the spring of 2021.

Now the 2 former prime ministers — ardent political foes — are preventing it out in a lurid defamation trial that some liken to a cleaning soap opera.

On Monday, Israelis have been left to parse the fallout a day after the primary protagonists and different Israeli public figures took the witness stand for greater than 13 hours of testimony rife with bickering, sniping and accusations of a wide range of issues afflicting the Netanyahus.

In abnormal instances, Sunday’s listening to within the Tel Aviv Magistrates’ Court docket might need been dismissed as a typically grotesque signal of the depths to which Israeli political discourse can sink.

However the libel case is taking part in out simply because the nation’s present governing coalition, a fragile alliance of eight ideologically disparate events led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, is teetering getting ready to collapse — and Mr. Netanyahu seems near engineering a possible comeback.

One other member of Mr. Bennett’s coalition quit on Monday, leaving the federal government accountable for solely 59 seats within the 120-seat Parliament and bringing the prospect of one other election, the fifth in below 4 years, ever nearer.

“It was a actuality present,” Gadi Wolfsfeld, a professor of political communications at Reichman College in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, stated of the trial. “Or worse, a cleaning soap opera. It’s unhappy.”

Nonetheless, he stated, the courtroom drama was unlikely to have a lot impact on the political panorama.

“Let’s bear in mind, there are only a few individuals who don’t have already got a agency opinion about Bibi,” he stated, referring to Mr. Netanyahu by his nickname. “So for the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants, it received’t make a little bit of distinction.”

Neither Mr. Olmert nor Mr. Netanyahu is a stranger to court docket. Mr. Netanyahu, who holds the document as Israel’s longest serving prime minister after a complete of 15 years in workplace, is presently on trial within the Jerusalem District Court docket for corruption. Mr. Olmert, in workplace from 2006 to 2009, was convicted in 2014 of taking a bribe whereas he was mayor of Jerusalem and served 16 months in jail.

The most recent courtroom spectacle resurfaced alarming allegations over the pressures Mr. Netanyahu confronted inside his household and his incapability to resist them, provided this time below oath by a few of his closest former advisers.

Because the day of testimony progressed, the wild rumors and reviews of disturbing goings-on that accompanied Mr. Netanyahu’s lengthy tenure got an airing as Mr. Olmert’s lawyer and witnesses for the protection bandied about references to consuming issues, obsessive-compulsive conduct, uncontrolled tantrums, narcissism and paranoia within the Netanyahu family.

“The testimony heard in court docket Sunday was nauseating and horrifying, reviving grim recollections of what we removed precisely one yr in the past,” Yossi Verter, a political columnist, wrote in Monday’s left-wing Haaretz newspaper.

However Mr. Verter, like different analysts, stated none of it was more likely to postpone Mr. Netanyahu’s die-hard allies and supporters and will even profit him, as he performs the position of a sufferer of persecution.

One political ally of Mr. Netanyahu’s, Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right lawmaker, wrote in a Twitter put up that he was “squirming in disgust” on the “satanic baseness” of the efforts to defame the Netanyahu household.

The Netanyahus are suing Mr. Olmert for greater than $250,000 in damages as a result of, they stated, his characterization of them as mentally sick prompt he was privy, as a former prime minister, to some hidden medical prognosis that didn’t exist and that he had crossed a purple line.

Mr. Olmert’s lawyer, Amir Tytunovich, stated in an interview that his consumer’s most important traces of protection have been that he was expressing an opinion at a stormy time in Israeli politics, talking “out of emotion and concern for the way forward for the nation,” and that Mr. Olmert was telling the reality, although he was clearly not providing an expert medical prognosis.

“That is my opinion and I received’t change it,” Mr. Olmert stated in a quick interview with The New York Occasions exterior the courtroom.

Mr. Netanyahu was the primary to take the stand on Sunday, usually turning round to play to the viewers, principally made up of the Hebrew information media’s authorized reporters.

“I’ve no psychiatric historical past, and the burden of proof is on you, not me!” he declared as Mr. Olmert sat throughout from him within the small, crowded courtroom.

Sara Netanyahu, a licensed psychologist, categorically denied reviews that she had been hospitalized in a sanitarium in Vienna final yr, insisting that was “a lie from begin to end.”

She asserted that an audio tape of her screaming at a publicist over the cellphone in 2009 had been “cooked” and “manipulated.” And when Mr. Tytunovich, Mr. Olmert’s lawyer, prompt that she was a fan of vodka, she retorted that she didn’t drink alcohol however {that a} wholesome inventory of it had been left within the prime minister’s residence by the earlier tenant, Mr. Olmert.

Yair Netanyahu, the couple’s elder son, was confronted with a slew of his personal social media posts by which he ascribed psychological sickness to different public figures. Explaining why he had written {that a} former protection minister and Netanyahu rival, Moshe Yaalon, must be in a psychiatric establishment, he stated, “I wished to make enjoyable of his obsession over my father.”

Tamar Almog, the authorized commentator for Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, described the proceedings as “half circus, half preschool.” However Uzi Arad, a witness for the protection who served as Mr. Netanyahu’s nationwide safety adviser and shut confidant earlier than a pointy falling out, stated the dysfunction he had witnessed within the Netanyahu family “exacted a value from the nation.”

He described one incident when Mr. Netanyahu left unprepared for a visit to Washington and couldn’t be briefed on the airplane as a result of he insisted on sitting with Sara the entire manner, stopping Mr. Arad from sharing categorized data. In keeping with Mr. Arad, the lapse led to an enormous blowup in Mr. Netanyahu’s assembly with Robert M. Gates, the U.S. secretary of protection on the time, prompting the Pentagon to chop off ties with Israel for 2 months.

Nir Hefetz, a former spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu who has turned state witness in his corruption trial, informed the court docket of fixed interference by Ms. Netanyahu and her son in nationwide decision-making. He associated that Yair as soon as burst into a gathering his father was holding with different officers, received down on all fours and wagged his tongue, berating his father in crude phrases for sucking as much as these current.

“I ought to apologize after right this moment?” Mr. Olmert stated exterior the courtroom.

In a Fb post on Monday, Mr. Netanyahu wrote that Mr. Olmert “introduced former workers who would give false testimony and slander my household with a baseless blood libel.”

The legal professionals for the perimeters should now sum up their arguments earlier than the decide reaches a verdict, the timing for which isn’t but scheduled.

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