Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto and an associate, Benzion Suky, filed a $30 million lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court this week against Keshet, an Israeli TV production house, and Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan for an investigative piece the plaintiffs said showed “malice and ill-will” toward the rabbi and his charity, Shuva Israel.
The piece, recently broadcast on Dayan’s popular and acclaimed Channel 2 program Uvda, covered the charity, as well as Pinto’s ties to business, political and even crime figures, and what it described as the “empire” he has built for himself and the millions he’s accrued.
“In an effort to tarnish, diminish and destroy the reputation of Rabbi Pinto and his Shuva,” the lawsuit claimed, “the defendants Keshet and Dayan engaged in a course of conduct which instead of seeking the truth, solely provided former followers of the rabbi and Shuva to gain... revenge [for]... alleged failed business losses.”
The lawsuit said the case falls under US jurisdiction because the program was broadcast to cable providers there. In addition, Dayan and others from Uvda contacted people there or traveled there while researching the piece, and others from the program traveled there to conduct interviews.
It also alleges that the defendants, “with total disregard for the truth, forged ahead and produced a show that instead provided the public with an expose solely geared to destroy Rabbi Pinto, Shuva and Suky.”
The alleged “defamations” also include testimony from others who appeared on the program alleging that Pinto was a dangerous man who made millions through his “empire” and used police connections to go after people who had wronged him.
In February a lawsuit was filed against Pinto in the New York Supreme Court alleging that he had a friend, a New York City detective, arrest the plaintiff, who had revealed alleged business wrongdoings by Suky. The affidavit in that suit says the detective told the plaintiff he would release him if he handed over a computer with information about Suky’s alleged wrongdoings, and that he then filed a charge of grand larceny against the plaintiff and had his passport confiscated so he couldn’t leave the country.
Within days of the Uvda broadcast the program on Pinto disappeared from the Keshet website. It was the season finale and was highly promoted before it aired.
In May The Jerusalem Post reported that Pinto and the state were on the verge of a plea bargain agreement for him to testify against former Lahav 443 police commander Menashe Arbiv on corruption charges. Arbiv resigned as head of the “Israeli FBI” on February 9 due to that scandal, which involved allegations that he accepted gifts from Pinto in order to influence an investigation the police were conducting into his charity.
In a response by Keshet to this week’s US lawsuit, the company said: “We stand behind every word that was published in the season finale investigation. We will be happy to clarify Mr. Suki’s claims in court. We are not certain that such a clarification will be in his favor.”