New Hope MK files libel lawsuit against Netanyahu’s son

New Hope MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, the designated education minister in the emerging coalition set to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, filed a NIS 500,000 ($154,000) libel lawsuit Wednesday against the premier’s son Yair for comments he made about her in December.

Shasha-Biton became a lawmaker for Netanyahu’s Likud after Moshe Kahlon’s now-defunct Kulanu party merged with it. During the coronavirus pandemic, as chairwoman of the Knesset’s coronavirus committee, she angered the premier’s allies by striking down several measures passed by the cabinet.

She criticized what she viewed at the time as unjustified measures that kept some public spaces, including gyms, closed while other parts of the economy were reopening after the first COVID-19 wave. She used her powers to overturn that decision and several others before Netanyahu defanged her committee and removed her authority to overturn cabinet resolutions.

In December 2020, Shasha-Biton left Likud and joined Netanyahu’s rival Gideon Sa’ar in his newly formed New Hope party. The right-wing slate was formed under a core promise not to join a Netanyahu-led government, and it has upheld that vow, electing to form a so-called change government with right-wing, centrist, left-wing and Islamist parties that is set to be sworn in Sunday.

Three days after she left Likud, Yair Netanyahu lambasted her in an interview with right-wing radio station Galey Israel, saying she was responsible for many COVID-19 deaths.

“People died because of her populist decisions, there are people in their graves who died in the second wave [of infections],” Netanyahu said. “She caused the second wave to be more severe by ensuring that everything is opened. This is her only achievement in her entire public life.”

He also claimed that Likud had handed Shasha-Biton the position of coronavirus committee chair as an “act of charity because they felt sorry for her and wanted her to feel good about herself.”

“They had no reason to include her on the Likud slate, she isn’t an electoral asset and didn’t add votes to Likud. I don’t believe her family voted for Likud,” he added.

Yair Netanyahu in court in Tel Aviv, December 10, 2018, where he testified in a NIS 140,000 libel suit he filed the previous year against Abie Binyamin, a social activist. (FLASH90)

In April, Shasha-Biton sent Netanyahu a letter demanding that he publicly retract his remarks in the interview or face a lawsuit, Channel 12 reported Wednesday. The premier’s son ignored the letter.

“Even freedom of speech should have reasonable limits,” said the lawsuit, filed via attorneys Efrat Azoulay Akel and Amir Tytunovich. They noted that Netanyahu is known for his “lack of boundaries and good taste.”

The lawyers said Netanyahu’s remarks had spread quickly on social media: “Many in the public still believe the shocking remarks published by the defendant reflect the true reality.”

They argued that the comments caused damage to Shasha-Biton’s reputation, drew many negative reactions and even incitement and threats, and she “found it hard to look people in the eyes, including her associates, friends and relatives.”

The lawsuit demands compensation totaling NIS 500,000 and a public correction of Netanyahu’s remark.

Yair Netanyahu has a history of posting incendiary messages on social media, and he tweets fast and often against those he believes have wronged him and his family, leading to a slew of libel lawsuits and legal threats.

Last week, several major social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram temporarily blocked him after he posted the home address of Yamina MK Nir Orbach amid a string of demonstrations outside his home aiming to pressure him not to join the emerging government.

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