Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu testified on Tuesday that leaving a Facebook post unanswered that claimed his wife, Sara, threw him out of his car and required Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) bodyguards to intervene, would have harmed the agency’s reputation.
That, he explained to Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Azaria Alkilai, was his reason for suing Yediot Aharonot reporter Yigal Sarna for defamation, while letting other false reports against him go without such a response.
In March 2015, Sarna posted on Facebook that Sara Netanyahu kicked her husband out of his car during a fight, forcing the couple’s caravan of cars to pull over on Route 1 and requiring the Shin Bet’s help to separate them.
The Netanyahus denied the story and sued Sarna for the maximum in defamation damages of NIS 280,000, claiming he had soiled their good names as part of a crusade to discredit them.
The prime minister continued to firmly deny Sarna’s allegation. “It never was and never could have been,” Netanyahu said, and called the story a “lie” and an “insane attempt to besmirch my family’s name.”
He added that the notion that he, as prime minister, or his wife would act in an irresponsible manner, endanger security personnel and risk state security was “absurd.” Sara testified after her husband and admitted that the two have had fights over the years, like many other married couples. But when asked if over the course of 20 years they had fought in the presence of security personnel in the premier’s caravan answered, “I don’t remember.”
Sara Netanyahu angrily accused Sarna of lying, saying the reporter was “not only a liar, but has been inhuman in how he has treated me and my family.”
She also said that the claims were part of a decades-long media campaign of bias.
“There has been a crusade for 20 years against me. If I sued every time [I] would be in court every day, every hour. I am a means to fell the prime minister.”
Former Shin Bet director Yoram Cohen, who supervised Netanyahu’s security detail at the time of the alleged incident, had been expected to testify, but was dropped from the witness list at the last minute.
Netanyahu’s lawyer, Yossi Cohen, aggressively questioned Sarna about why he dropped Cohen as a witness along with several others.
Sarna answered that he had to protect his sources and did not want to put Shin Bet agents in a bind between having to tell the truth about their prime minister or needing to lie under oath. But he added that there were 30 witnesses to the incident and there was no question it had happened.
Pressed as to why he revised some details from his original story in later posts, Sarna said that – while he was 100% sure there had been a fight, that the prime minister got out of the car on Route 1 and that agents had to intervene – he was less sure of other details.
“I was not sure whether the prime minister left the car himself or whether his wife threw him out, whether they were driving toward Jerusalem or toward Tel Aviv,” Sarna explained – leading to laughter in the courtroom.
Cohen also attacked Sarna as having been fired by the newspaper for his post. However, the reporter responded by saying he was disciplined, but never fired. The only time a possible dismissal was discussed, he said, was in Case 2,000, when Netanyahu famously begged Yediot Aharonot
publisher Arnon Noni Mozes to fire Sarna as part of a deal in which the prime minister would weaken the newspaper’s competitor, Israel Hayom
Sarna also admitted that the post and some others he had written had an overarching goal of displacing Netanyahu as prime minister.