Netanyahu hits out at ‘libellous’ report his wife threw him out of car

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Israeli PM appears in court in defamation case over claims his wife expelled him from official motorcade during furious argument

Israels prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has appeared in court to deny a claim that his wife, Sara, expelled him from an official motorcade during a furious argument in 2015, endangering his security arrangements.

The claims and counterclaims emerged during a high-profile defamation case that has brought together two of Israels longest-running political soap operas the battle between the countrys prime minister and its media, and claims about his wifes allegedly volatile behaviour.

The libel case, in which the couple are claiming $76,000 (66,500) in damages, concerns a gossipy Facebook post by Igal Sarna, a prominent journalist at the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

The post purported to describe a row between the Netanyahus that allegedly took place in a night-time motorcade of four cars between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The Netanyahus deny the events described occurred.

The case, and the Netanyahus appearance in court, comes as the prime minister is embroiled in several police investigations that have led to a slew of allegations being published in the Israeli media, including reports of gifts such as champagne, jewellery and cigars the couple are said to have received from wealthy benefactors.

Netanyahu, who strongly denies any wrongdoing, insists the investigations will all come to nothing, because there is nothing. Meanwhile, he has taken to launching broadsides against the journalists behind some of the stories.

Sarnas Facebook post appears small beer in comparison with some of the recent allegations against Netanyahu, but the couple have forged ahead with the case, accusing their long-time critic of a disgusting, cynical, low, mean-spirited attack intended to embarrass them publicly by means of ugly and false reports.

Sarna told the court he had made the allegations in good faith based on several sources, adding that the incident bore features similar or identical to known episodes in the Netanyahus family life.

Taking the stand on Tuesday, Netanyahu insisted the fight was fiction that never occurred and never could have happened.

The hearing, which had been postponed several times at Netanyahus request, dramatised the bad blood between Netanyahu and many Israeli journalists.

Referring to that theme in her evidence on Tuesday, Sara Netanyahu accused the media of fighting a 20-year crusade against her husband through her. To her knowledge, she had never in those years argued with her husband in an official car in the presence of a security detail, she said.

Taking aim at Sarna in particular, she accused him of being inhuman in his treatment of her family.

Sarna conceded in court that there were aspects of the story of which he was not entirely sure. I hadnt known whether Sara threw Bibi out of car, he told the court to laughter, using Netanyahus nickname. Or if he left of his own accord.

Asked why he had posted on Facebook rather than offering the story to his paper, Sarna said it was because he believed it was small.

For his part, the prime minister accused Sarna of throwing a biblical size flood of lies at me.

Anyone who knows anything about convoy security knows that something like [the fight described] could not happen, Netanyahu told the court.

In response, Sarnas lawyer accused the Netanyahus of suing not because the details in the Facebook post were false, but because they had been stung by a series of critical columns by the journalist. Netanyahu replied that they had sued over the post because this was super false.

Asked whether he followed Sarnas Facebook posts, Netanyahu shot back: Its hard to follow so much crazy, surreal slander. I have other business to attend to. I cant even dedicate a moment of my time to this deluge.

Sarnas claims appear to have touched a particular nerve in the Netanyahus, not least Sara, who has been buffeted by allegations of her behaviour in the prime ministers official residence.

Last year a former housekeeper was awarded damages after a court found she had abused him and subjected him to irrational demands.

Summing up the verdict in that case the judge ruled: The court had before it many testimonies indicating that the conditions of employment in the residence were harmful due to the behaviour of Mrs Netanyahu and her attitude to the employees.

Those included exaggerated demands, insults, humiliation and outbursts of anger.

The case continues.

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