Why is the Netanyahu-Olmert trial hurting millions?

What happened on Sunday, 12 June in court during the hearing of the Netanyahu family's defamation lawsuit against Olmert crossed a red line. Psychiatrist Ilan Rabinovich explains why.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu heading to the courtroom for the Netanyahu's defamation case against former prime minister Ehud Olmert.  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu heading to the courtroom for the Netanyahu's defamation case against former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

I understand the human psyche, and it seems that in the heat of ego and libido of the size that only prime ministers have, several red lines were crossed in the court hearing between members of the Netanyahu family and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. 

For those who don’t know, former prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert met on 12/06 in the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court for a 13-hour evidentiary hearing in the defamation lawsuit filed by members of the Netanyahu family against Olmert, who called them "mentally ill."

As a specialist psychiatrist I’m against introducing phrases like "mentally ill" into public discourse. A smart and brilliant man, with personal and public responsibility, with historical proof of what he accomplished, should absolutely not state that a bitter political opponent and his family “are suffering from mental illness."  It’s a reflection on us as a society and shows the intensity of the polarization of passions. It shows the hatred and accusations that burn in us. Not everything is legitimate in the heat of the debate that has become personal and irrelevant.

It’s a pity that they didn’t listen to the Honorable Justice, Vice President of the Magistrate's Court, Amit Yariv, who didn’t hide his disappointment that Netanyahu and Olmert couldn’t reach a compromise and wrote that "it seems inevitable to hear evidence in the case." The judge was right in rejecting the request for Netanyahu family members to undergo a psychiatric examination on behalf of one party, after signing a waiver of medical confidentiality and transferring medical records related to mental health.

There are judges in Jerusalem and the state is blessed to have judges such as Amit Yariv who was right in his ruling: "A situation must be avoided in which a requirement to disclose documents becomes a hunting trip whose purpose is to try and locate evidence that will make it possible to prove in retrospect the truth of the statement. This is a serious and onerous violation of the plaintiffs' right to privacy."

 Ehud Olmert at the Netanyahu's defamation trial against him, June 12, 2022. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV) Ehud Olmert at the Netanyahu's defamation trial against him, June 12, 2022. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

 Both sides went too far

As a professional, I disliked what happened at the court. In my humble opinion, both sides have gone too far. Advocate Titonovich in asking that Netanyahu disclose his personal psychiatric history, or questions asked about Mrs. Netanyahu's alleged "uncontrollable seizures" that the judge wondered if Dr. Berkowitz, a trusted adviser of the Netanyahu’s, was called to address.

I oppose questions directly in the guise of interrogating a witness: "Did he take psychiatric medication?" 'Because what is psychiatric treatment? Is sleep induction medication included? Not everything is allowed and there’s a limit to legitimacy. There are things that are personal and intimate to a person, and shouldn’t be asked publicly. This needs to be stopped.

Who determines what is normal?

Medicine has changed its face in recent decades. It’s managed to extend life expectancy and the emphasis in twenty-first-century medicine is quality of life — To live well. To live as a person deserves. 

Anyone who says he is happy all the time is lying or running away from a closed ward. We want "small moments of happiness, fulfillment and satisfaction." The purpose of professionals, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers is to reduce the gap between the potential hidden in each of us and the actual realization.

As a specialist psychiatrist, I get to meet both simple people like me and successful celebrities. Heads of government and economy, cultural heroes and artists who have sat on the couch in front of me for the past half a century. When treatment is on the high road, a solid therapeutic alliance makes them feel safe and protected and allows them to take off masks because they know they won’t be judged.

The human personality is a derivative of the genes one inherits and of experiences in childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Deficits at these ages can create a hole with which one will walk until the day one dies. 

The personality of the adult person will have a hard time undergoing a dramatic correction; only cosmetic changes are possible while acknowledging personal deficits. These disadvantages can also turn into advantages and an emotional or physical lack can create an endless drive for something better.

The therapist is a screen on which the scenarios of the tormented mind are projected. A therapist must listen carefully in order to absorb nuances, to contain, to reflect (mirroring), to interpret and sometimes even to make a conflict and confrontation which will lead to change.

The most important thing in therapy is empathy (which can be confused with sympathy) which means getting into the heads of people sitting in front of you and understanding how they think and feel — Not how you would feel in that scenario, not how right it was to feel and act. Give patients the feeling that you really understand what they’ve been through and are going through, the powerful inner storms they feel.

Don’t tarnish psychiatric treatment

In recent years there has been a shift in clinicians’ pharmacological treatment options. Billions of dollars are invested annually in development and research. 

Thousands of clinicians and researchers are working to develop antidepressants, and medications to cure anxieties and obsessions. Preparations for sleep disorders, for personality disorders. For ADHD. For addictions. For flight/ driving/ test anxiety. For lack of impulse control. For problematic behaviors and repairing the threshold of low stimuli and eruptions. For premature ejaculation, erection problems and lack of sexual desire. For eating disorders: From compulsive eating to bulimia and anorexia nervosa. To cure stressful bothersome thoughts that raise anxiety resulting in inner turmoil and poor quality of life. 

The relentless pursuit of wholeness is accompanied by unrelenting self-criticism. Medications to keep our minds clear as we age, and to protect against Alzheimer's and dementia. Help teens who find life to be unbearable and try to prevent suicide.

It’s forbidden to give legitimacy and allow discourse on the subject of "mentally ill" or on the subject of professional help with a negative connotation. We have succeeded in the struggle to fight stigmatization and the fear of psychological-psychiatric treatment and we won’t go back. People shouldn’t be afraid of treatment and refrain from using it for fear of being attacked or asked about it under oath in court.