PM sues Channel 10, Maariv over ‘Bibi-tours’ reports

Netanyahu files 2 NIS 1,000,000 libel suits accusing news organizations of exposing false information about him regarding flight funding.

Netanyahu smiling 311 (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Netanyahu smiling 311
(photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu filed two NIS 1 million libel suits against Channel 10 and Ma’ariv on Tuesday, accusing them of reporting false information about him in their coverage of what has come to be known as the “Bibi-Tours” affair.
Last week, Channel 10 investigative reporter Raviv Drucker reported, on his show Hamakor, on a series of flights that Netanyahu took with his wife Sara in the late 1990s and early 2000s, flights allegedly paid for by wealthy associates.
RELATED:Lindenstrauss: Decision on probe of PM trips this week
According to the report, Netanyahu allegedly utilized a carefully crafted network of wealthy associates to finance private flights, luxury hotel suites, first-class restaurants, and trips abroad for him and his family, benefits that the show characterized as ethical infractions.
In the wake of the publication, Channel 10 news and other media outlets continued reporting on alleged wrongdoings by Netanyahu.
In one of the lawsuits filed in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, Netanyahu’s lawyers, David Shomron and Michael Rabello, stated that a news report broadcast on Channel 10 news on Sunday, in which Drucker revealed an internal list of foreign donors who promised contributions to Netanyahu’s 2005 Likud primary elections and said that Netanyahu failed to report the contributions to the state comptroller, was patently false and that Drucker broadcast the information despite being told that the information was false by Netanyahu’s attorneys.
The lawsuit claimed that Channel 10 knowingly broadcast a false report with intent of embarrassing and defaming the prime minister. It drew specific attention to a statement by Drucker, who said that for actions similar to the ones Netanyahu allegedly took, others had gone to prison.
The lawyers said that the funds in question were returned to the donors and that no wrongdoing had taken place.
“Reference to the prime minister in the said false report was disparaging and very hurtful, creating a negative portrayal of him and depicting him as a felon, all in order to humiliate him in public or to make him a target of contempt or ridicule for alleged actions that are completely without foundation,” read the statement of claim.
“These publications are part of a slander campaign the respondents are waging against the plaintiff.”
Netanyahu’s lawyers wrote that the prime minister is aware of the importance of media criticism, but that a line needed to be drawn on publishing untrue items.
“There is no reason to enable a slander campaign against the prime minister, in which statements are made about expected sanctions, when there is no grain of truth to the facts and when the publishers were told so beforehand,” read the statement.
“It is time for the court to put an end to the publication of false and irresponsible news reports about the plaintiff, and make it clear that his name cannot be sullied without having to take responsibility.”
The second lawsuit, against Ma’ariv, was over an article and an editorial cartoon that appeared in the paper on Sunday.
The article indicated that Netanyahu and his wife had held a dinner costing NIS 60,000 on one of their visits abroad, and that the meal was part of their overall self-indulgent behavior.
The lawyers argued that the article, as well as the caricature, which showed Netanyahu walking through airport Customs carrying a suitcase with large sums of money overflowing from it, were published with harmful intent, and that Ma’ariv had not even bothered to ask for Netanyahu’s response.
Both lawsuits stated that Netanyahu reserved the right to sue over additional libels.
Drucker said in response to the lawsuit that the Sunday report was neither false nor libelous.
“We stated clearly in the broadcast that the document in question [the list of donors] could be interpreted in several ways. By one interpretation it would indicate wrongdoing, and by another it could be innocent. We never presented the document as proving illegalities.
I don’t know what Netanyahu’s lawyers are basing their claims on,” said Drucker.
Drucker added that he found it odd that Netanyahu was choosing to sue over the Sunday report and not over the original investigation that appeared on his show last week.
“If this is what he’s suing us over, I think it’s strange that he’s trying to present it as if he were suing over the flights story,” he said.
Ma’ariv failed to respond.
Following last week’s report on Channel 10, several bodies – including the Kadima Party – have urged State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss to investigate any possible wrongdoing by Netanyahu. Lindenstrauss said on Monday that he would decide by the end of the week whether to launch such an investigation.
Right-wing NGO the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel sent a letter to the state comptroller on Tuesday, requesting that while he conducts an investigation into Netanyahu’s case he should also look into the conduct of other high-ranking officials.
In the letter, written by the group’s director-general Nachi Eyal, the group asked Lindenstrauss to specifically look into flights made by President Shimon Peres. The letter cites two occasions on which Peres allegedly flew to the United States on board the private jet of American businessman Daniel Abraham.
The letter states that Peres flew on Abraham’s private jet in May 2009 on his way to give a speech to the AIPAC conference and in 2004 for the opening of former US president Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Arkansas.
The letter also states that Peres received $120,000 from Abraham for the 2005 Labor primary elections and notes that the state comptroller had written a scathing report on the matter and ordered Peres to return the money.
The group volunteered its assistance in uncovering infractions by other public officials.