Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu won a defamation suit on Monday against a predecessor who had alleged that he, his wife and his son were mentally ill, with the court deeming the remarks a bid to harm Netanyahu’s political career.
Netanyahu’s lawyer hailed the ruling as “the shattering of another libel” – an allusion to his client’s assertion of innocence in three graft trials that overshadowed his last term as premier and are complicating his efforts to retake power.
Ehud Olmert, who served as centrist premier between 2006 and 2009, made the observations in a TV interview last year shortly before the conservative Netanyahu, then heading a caretaker government, was toppled by an alliance of cross-partisan rivals.
Having placed first in Israel’s Nov 1 election, Netanyahu now looks set to form a hard-right new coalition government after more mainstream parties boycotted him due to his legal troubles.
Tel Aviv Magistrates’ Court ruled that Olmert’s portrayal of Netanyahu, his wife Sara and son Yair had exposed them to “hate, ridicule or degradation” and that the defendant had not substantiated the remarks with a proper medical assessment.
While voicing hope that mental illness “will one day be regarded like any other illness”, the court ordered Olmert to pay the Netanyahus 62,000 shekels ($17,850) in compensation. They had originally sought 837,000 shekels.
“An attempt by a public figure to influence the political outcome of a a democratic process cannot be viewed as ‘intent to cause harm’ in the sense of warranting multiple sums in damages,” the 26-page ruling said of the reduced award.
In his recent memoir “Bibi: My Story”, Netanyahu describes Sara as a trusted adviser on policy and his “rock” in times of trouble. He deems Yair, a prominent rightist commentator on social media, a “sharp-witted observer of the political scene”.
Olmert’s lawyer said he might appeal against the decision.