Netanyahu files 3rd lawsuit over “Bibi Tours” allegations

PM accuses TV channel of reporting false info about his private travels; PM's lawyer: 'Bibi-Tours' affair worst case of libel since 1950s.

By RON FRIEDMAN
April 12, 2011 20:48
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Charles Dharapak)

 
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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, filed a NIS 3.5 million libel suit against Channel 10 and two of its reporters, Raviv Druker and Mickey Rosenthal, on Tuesday, following last week’s broadcast of allegations that Netanyahu billed two organizations for flights the couple took in 2006.

This is the third libel suit filed by Netanyahu against news organizations over alleged libels committed in their reporting of the “Bibi Tours” scandal.

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At a press conference in Jerusalem, Netanyahu’s lawyer David Shimron outlined the lawsuit, pointing to 15 allegations made by the reporters that Netanyahu’s lawyers said were false. The allegations that Shimron spoke of were all broadcast on channel 10 investigative news program Hamakor, during two segments stretching over three weeks.

Shimron called the case “the most grievous and harmful case of libel since the 1950s.”

“Both segments of the show were full of libels from start to finish – a series of untrue slanders that are malicious and in some cases professionally negligent in the extreme,” said Shimron.

The lawsuit states that the respondents maliciously slandered Netanyahu and his wife, relying on made-up stories, lies, distorted facts and insinuations to pass on a “partial, slanted and distorted message with the aim of smearing, humiliating and ridiculing the plaintiffs, degrading them in public, attributing to them behaviors and characteristics and endangering the prime minister’s administration and functioning.”

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The lawsuit claims that the respondents completely ignored Netanyahu’s continuous advocacy work on behalf of Israel on the trips he made abroad, and that the standard of accommodation the couple enjoyed on their trips was on par with that enjoyed by former heads of state. The lawsuit denied all the accusations regarding the double-billing alleged in the second segment, as well as the questions raised over possible ethical violations committed by Netanyahu in accepting benefits from wealthy-foreign associates, which appeared in the first.

The libel suit also denied that Netanyahu had provided assistance to his associates in exchange for the benefits they bestowed on him and his family.

As part of the blanket denial, Netanyahu’s lawyers also addressed the claim that Sara Netanyahu had taken dirty laundry from her home to have dry cleaned at the hotels where the family stayed, and that Netanyahu had lied about a book he read.

The lawyers presented reporters with a PowerPoint presentation, featuring the allegation, the explanation and the proof they had to back up the denial.

Channel 10 said it stood behind everything aired on the show and that it had given Netanyahu ample time to respond to its questions and correct any mistakes.

Shimron confirmed that questions had been received from Hamakor reporters, but claimed that Channel 10 refused to hand over the alleged proof, because it didn’t want to reveal its source.

“Despite the detailed answers they were given, the respondents hurried to publish the slandering and abusive stories, knowing full well they were completely baseless,” read the statement of claim.

Netanyahu’s lawyers wrote that the prime minister was aware of the importance of media criticism, but that a line needed to be drawn on publishing untrue facts.

Shimron said he was waiting for a retraction and an apology to be aired on Channel 10.

Netanyahu’s two previous libel lawsuits, seeking damages of NIS 1 million from Channel 10 and Ma’ariv, were over follow-up reporting conducted by the news organizations after the airing of the first Bibi Tours segment.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has already began a probe into the travel practices of senior Israeli officials – a probe that initially was supposed to focus on Netanyahu alone – but which was expanded to include all current and former presidents, ministers and opposition heads of the last two governments.

Kadima filed a formal complaint about Netanyahu’s alleged double-billing to the attorney-general. It remains to be seen whether an investigation will follow.

The lawsuit came attached with dozens of documents, which Netanyahu’s lawyers argue prove that the allegations were false. The documents include correspondence between Druker and Shimron, letters and sworn statements from businessmen and organization heads, flight receipts, trip itineraries and transcripts.

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