Appeals Court confirms ‘Yediot’ journalist defamed PM in Facebook post

Yigal Sarna failed to prove that his post about a spat between the Netanyahu was true, and his failure if in and of itself proof of bad faith and defamation on his part.

Sara Netanyahu sitting next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  (photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP)
Sara Netanyahu sitting next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP)
The Tel Aviv District Court upheld on Sunday the NIS 115,000 fine given to journalist Igal Sarna for posting on Facebook that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was kicked out of his car by his wife in 2015.
On top of rejecting Sarna’s appeal and affirming the June 2017 ruling of the lower Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, the district court also tacked on an additional NIS 20,000 for Sarna to reimburse the Netanyahus for the legal costs of defending against the appeal.
Like the lower court, the district court ruled that Sarna failed to prove that what he wrote about the Netanyahus was true and that this failure is itself proof of bad faith and defamation on his part.
A spokesman for the Netanyahus noted that “The prime minister and his wife, just like any citizen, have the same full right to defend their good names from harmful publications.”
The lower court had ruled that Sarna, who writes for Yediot Aharonot, violated journalism standards by not asking the Netanyahus for a response before posting his claims on Facebook.
Sarna’s March 2015 Facebook post said 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 help of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to separate them.
The Netanyahus denied the story and sued Sarna for the maximum in defamation damages, which was NIS 280,000.
The NIS 115,000 originally granted to the Netanyahus was for the damage to their reputations from Sarna’s post, broken down into NIS 60,000 for the prime minister, NIS 40,000 for Sara and NIS 15,000 for lawyers’ fees and costs before the lower court.
The lower court said that it was clear from a variety of Sarna’s postings that he related to the Netanyahus “with a strong and deep hatred” and that his goal was to “harm the plaintiffs and degrade them.”
Overall, the lower court accepted the Netanyahus’ word against the word of Sarna about the story, with the Netanyahus making a rare appearance in court in March to testify that the alleged incident never happened.
The lower court did not accept Sarna’s claim that he had properly verified the story with a source within the prime minister’s personal detail. It pointed out that Sarna did not reveal his source and that his source did not testify on his behalf.
According to the lower court, this left Sarna having possibly written a story based on an anonymous source who may have passed on to Sarna a story second-hand. The judge wrote that Sarna should not have published the story without further verifying it and should have at least gotten a response from the Netanyahus.
The judge did not appear to cut Sarna much slack for his 35 years of experience as a journalist in terms of being able to sniff out what stories were true and what were not.