Netanyahu: 'I have no psychiatric history' — Olmert defamation case opens

Benjamin Netanyahu was the first witness in the high-profile defamation case filed by the Netanyahus against his predecessor in the legal battle of prime ministers. 

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.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

 “I have no psychiatric history,” former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Deputy President Amit Yarivin on Sunday, in a thundering rejection of allegations by his predecessor Ehud Olmert that he and his family have suffered from mental illnesses.

Netanyahu was the first witness in the high-profile defamation case filed by the Netanyahus against Olmert in a grand yet bizarre legal battle of prime ministers.

What's been going on in court? 

Over the course of the day, Netanyahu, Sarah Netanyahu and Yair Netanyahu all fought back voraciously against a series of reports and allegations which Olmert lawyer Amir Tytunovich threw in their direction.

One moment, Tytunovich was playing an interview with former prime minister Ariel Sharon saying that Netanyahu always looked like he was bordering on falling apart under pressure and was liable to sudden bouts of panic.

 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)

Then he was playing an interview with Netanyahu’s long time lawyer Jacob Weinroth saying that Netanyahu was unstable and that sometimes Weinroth served him as a dual lawyer-psychologist.

Netanyahu said that Weinroth had apologized to him for the interview he gave and had said he had been fooled into saying things in a way that he did not intend – though the former prime minister could not explain why Weinroth did not publish a public retraction.

In another moment, Netanyahu and Sara were both trying to shoot down reports that she was hospitalized for mental issues in Austria in March 2020.

A strange twist intruded when Sara said she had never heard of that report before the current defamation case, whereas Tytunovich showed that the family spokesman, Ofer Golan, had responded to the report in real time, even if dismissively.

The court also heard recordings of Sara screaming hysterically at people, to which Sarah responded that someone had edited the recordings to make her sound crazy.

Yair and his parents also denied allegations that he had mental issues, including sometimes going on hunger strikes.

 Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara and his son Yair attend a preliminary hearing of the defamation lawsuit filed by them against Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in Magistrate Court in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 10, 2022. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/POOL VIA REUTERS) Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara and his son Yair attend a preliminary hearing of the defamation lawsuit filed by them against Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in Magistrate Court in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 10, 2022. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/POOL VIA REUTERS)

Netanyahu has argued that standard defamation law requires Olmert to prove his claims about the Netanyahus based only on what he knew at the time he made those claims, not based on acquiring new information from the Netanyahus.

He even noted that at a prior hearing, the court tried to convince Olmert to drop the defense that his claims were true and focus on a defense based on political opinion and not facts.

The trial opened on January 10 including claims of NIS 837,000 in damages for statements made against the Netanyahus’ mental health in two April 2021 interviews.

Olmert’s lawyer also asked if any of the Netanyahus or their messengers ever attacked others as mentally ill (Yair is known for a highly aggressive style on Twitter) verbally or on social media.

They parried these questions, saying their attacks used standard metaphors, and did not use statements that sounded like an actual clinical evaluation.

One of Olmert’s interviews was on April 12, 2021, to Democrat TV and the second interview was on April 21, 2021, on the Ophira and Berkowitz TV program.

During the first interview, Olmert called the Netanyahu family “mentally ill.”

Within days, the Netanyahus had threatened to sue Olmert for NIS 1 million if he did not retract his statement.

Instead, during the second interview, Olmert doubled down on his characterization of the Netanyahu family, explicitly refused to retract and laughed when one of his interviewers warned him he might be losing NIS 1 million.