Former Israeli PMs face off in court in defamation lawsuit

AP , Monday 10 Jan 2022

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday repeated his assertion that his successor and former rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, exhibited ‘crazy behavior’ as a high-profile defamation lawsuit between the two political heavyweights got underway.

Israeli former PMs in court
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, left, and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second right, and his wife Sarah arrive in the Tel Aviv Magistrate s Court Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, during a preliminary hearing in a defamation lawsuit. AP

The two fallen prime ministers faced off in a largely empty Tel Aviv courtroom in the opening of Netanyahu's defamation suit against Olmert. Netanyahu was joined by his wife, Sara, and oldest son, Yair. Olmert, the only Israeli prime minister ever to go to prison, sat alone on a bench, his legs crossed, across the room.

Netanyahu is suing Olmert for remarks he made last year, during the aftermath of a series of inconclusive parliamentary elections. At the time, Netanyahu refused calls to step down while on trial for corruption charges.

In an interview with an Israeli news site last April, Olmert leveled criticism at Netanyahu and said that ‘what is irreparable is the mental illness of the prime minister, his wife and his son’.

The Netanyahus have sued Olmert, seeking nearly $270,000 in damages, according to Hebrew press reports.

Neither Netanyahu nor Olmert spoke to the press at the start of the hearing.

But during the proceedings, Olmert defended his remarks on DemocraTV last year.

‘I followed their actions, I heard recordings of members of the family, I consulted with experts and with people close to them who know them intimately’, Olmert said, according to Hebrew media reports. ‘They detailed to me behavior that in common parlance is abnormal behaviors, crazy behaviors’.

Olmert preceded Netanyahu as Israel's prime minister, but resigned in 2008 before he was formally indicted on corruption charges. Olmert was convicted of fraud in 2014 and served most of a 27-month prison sentence. Olmert, 76, is now in private business.

As for Netanyahu, he is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes. He denies any wrongdoing and has accused police, prosecutors and the media of conspiring against him.

He was ousted from the prime minister's office after a coalition of parties opposing him formed a coalition government without his once-dominant Likud party last June. Netanyahu is currently serving as opposition leader in the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

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