MK Oren Hazan.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court dealt a harsh blow to MK Oren Hazan (Likud) on Tuesday, holding that Channel 2 reporter Amit Segal’s story about his sordid past at a casino in Burgas, Bulgaria, was defensible.
Hazan sued Channel 2 and Segal in October 2015 for NIS 1 million for their story in June 2015 that said in the past, Hazan hired prostitutes, used hard drugs and bought crystal meth for his casino’s Israeli patrons.
The court’s decision found the story about the prostitutes and Hazan’s drug use defensible, meaning it was true or based on good faith evidence, dismissing nearly all of his damages claims.
In a small victory, which is unlikely to eliminate Hazan’s embarrassment, the court held that the story about his providing crystal meth to patrons was defamatory and awarded him a mere NIS 40,000. Finding that he had lost on the majority of his claims, the court did not award Hazan any lawyers’ fees or court costs.
Hazan responded to the ruling by saying that Segal and Channel 2 are falsely reporting a victory.
“Despite their unprecedented smear campaign and the enlistment of the entire media clique in favor of one of its friends, the court instructed a senior reporter in Israel to pay NIS 40,000 in damages and said there was no sale of drugs or women. If I were them, I would be ashamed and not celebrating,” Hazan said.
Two reporters-turned- Zionist Union MKs called the ruling a victory for the free press. MK Shelly Yacimovich said it “is an encouragement for the weakened institution of journalistic investigations and a signal against lawsuits meant to cause fear.”
MK Miki Rosenthal called for a “public trial, at the end of which Hazan will be expelled from the Knesset.”
The lawsuit cannot result in Hazan’s removal from the Knesset, as MKs can only be discharged from the legislature if they are convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude. There is no ongoing criminal investigation of Hazan that could lead to such a conviction.
The only Likud MK to respond to the ruling was Yehudah Glick, who called it a sad day for the party.
“The acts that were attributed to him are the sort of things that, according to my values, are totally inappropriate for a public figure,” Glick wrote on Facebook. “If he indeed did them, he should take a step back and suspend himself. Only he knows if he actually did them or not, so he needs to think about it and make a decision on his own, even if it is a painful decision.”
Several locals in Burgas had told Channel 2 that Hazan managed the casino, and a worker at a nearby strip club called him “Big Boss Oren.”
Hazan’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit that the report is untrue and that the allegations were a “media assassination and personal persecution.”
Among the damages claimed in the suit, in addition to sullying Hazan and his family’s name, was the allegation that Hazan, despite holding the title of deputy Knesset speaker, had not been given any shifts to run Knesset meetings, and that his girlfriend’s parents – now his ex-girlfriend’s - would not let him come to their home for Shabbat meals.
The legal brief in defense stated that “the claims published in the investigative report” about Hazan “were true claims of great interest to the public, which were checked and published according to the professional standards of responsible journalism.”
Further, Channel 2’s brief said that additional investigations since the dispute over the report began have only confirmed the report’s claims and found additional evidence to support them.
Latching on to what they viewed as a central hole in Hazan’s claims, the brief said that the evidence was strong that he ran a casino, and that his Bulgarian business interests did not merely relate to a hotel, as he has repeatedly claimed.
Channel 2 and Segal also argued that Hazan could not claim he had been damaged by losing his “reputation” or “good name,” as he has been involved in a number of other incidents, including essentially being accused by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira of filing false campaign financing declarations.
Ultimately, Hazan’s claims did not get him far, and Channel 2 even argued that the one instance in which the court ruled against it, regarding Hazan’s involvement in the sale of drugs, was a mistake added online to a follow-up report, and not central to its original report.