Facing an NIS 100,000 slander lawsuit for comparing Otzma Yehudit’s views to “Nazism,” Rabbi Benny Lau refused Otzma Knesset candidate Itamar Ben-Gvir’s demand for an apology.
Ben-Gvir, who is a lawyer, sent the slander lawsuit to Lau on Sunday morning, requesting NIS 100,000 in damages and demanding an apology for telling his congregation that “a vote for Bayit Yehudi is a vote for the racism of [Ben-Gvir’s late mentor Rabbi Meir] Kahane.”
Through attorney Livian Segal, Lau argued that there was no slander in what he said, because what he said was true and because there is public interest in publicizing his statements.
“The rabbi said what he said innocently, out of his public, ethical and societal obligation to his community and the public at large,” Segal wrote. “He expressed his opinion legitimately on an issue of public interest and did not go beyond what is reasonable.”
As he has in Facebook messages since his controversial sermon on Shabbat, Lau differentiated between deeming candidates Nazis, which he did not do, and comparing their views to Nazism, which he has not denied doing.
“Rabbi Lau did not call anyone a ‘Nazi,’” Segal wrote. “Rabbi Lau extensively criticized giving a foothold to racist views in the Knesset, especially in the Bayit Yehudi party, of which he is the flesh of the flesh and that flew the banner of the values of the Torah and respecting people for who they are.”
Ben-Gvir responded that he will see Lau in court, saying that Lau “not only harmed me, but he also harmed the six million Jews who were murdered and slaughtered.”
New Bayit Yehudi leader Rafi Peretz, who enabled Otzma Yehudit candidates Ben-Gvir and Ben-Ari to run on his party’s slate, responded for the first time on Tuesday to Lau’s attack on his party and on him personally in the sermon.
“I was shocked to hear a rabbi in Israel compare the views of our candidates to Nazism,” Peretz told KAN radio.
New Right leader Naftali Bennett told the same radio station on Tuesday morning that “those who see Kahane as a role model are unfit to sit in the Knesset.”
Ben-Gvir responded by calling Bennett a hypocrite, because he himself had called on Bayit Ye-hudi to run with Otzma after Bennett harmed the party by leaving it.
“Those who abandoned the residents of south Tel Aviv and destroyed Amona continue to be-have irresponsibly,” Ben-Gvir said.