Former Netanyahu caretaker awarded NIS 170,000 in libel suit

Meni Naftali, the former manager of the official residence of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, won a libel lawsuit on Monday against a series of Netanyahu associates.

Naftali, who went from an employee of Netanyahu to one of his most prominent critics, will be paid approximately NIS 170,000 ($52,000) from a series of the former prime minister’s associates over their public statements against him, the Herzliya Magistrate’s Court ruled.

The decision comes more than six years after Naftali filed his original complaint, in a case that dragged on and included testimony from Sara Netanyahu, wife of the former prime minister. The libel suit was based on statements made that blamed Naftali for excessive spending at the Prime Minister’s Residence while the Netanyahus lived there, which was revealed in a 2015 state comptroller’s report slamming the couple for the outlandish expenses.

On Monday, Judge Gilad Hess ruled that Naftali, Sara Netanyahu and former aide Ezra Saidoff all shared responsibility for the excessive spending, and that attempts to blame Naftali alone were libelous.

“I found that not only did those sued not prove that [Naftali] was an unreliable person and a liar,” wrote Hess in his ruling. “The evidence shows that Naftali is a reliable person… His actions in ordering food were not done with the intention of deceiving or lying, but with the intention of pleasing his superiors, in particular Saidoff and Mrs. Netanyahu.”

Hess ruled that the Netanyahu family’s attorney, Yossi Cohen, must pay Naftali NIS 90,000, and that Netanyahu’s cousin, attorney David Shimron, must pay NIS 10,000, the Likud Party must pay NIS 35,000 and that former Prime Minister’s Residence employees Amnon Zakai and Ofra Shimoni must each pay NIS 18,000. Naftali had originally demanded NIS 500,000 in damages in his lawsuit.

Sara Netanyahu, then-prime minister Netanyahu’s wife, arrives to testify in the libel suit filed by Meni Naftali, the former manager of the Prime Minister’s Residence, at the Herzliya Magistrate’s Court on December 2, 2019. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

However Naftali’s suit against attorney Shulamit Eshbol was dismissed, and Naftali was ordered to pay her NIS 50,000 in legal fees.

Hess wrote that most of the criticism of Naftali during the scandal over the expenses from the Prime Minister’s Residence “was not aimed at the relevant actions of the complainant as the manager of the Prime Minister’s Residence; rather, they attacked him personally and his values as a person, and therefore there it was a significant injury.”

Naftali served in his position as manager of the residence from 2011-2012. In a separate lawsuit, he sued Sara Netanyahu in 2014 for abusive behavior while he was employed there. In 2016, the court ruled in favor of Naftali, and granted him NIS 170,000 compensation for his mistreatment.

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