Israeli court rebukes prime minister’s son over harassing protest leaders

  • >> Adam Rasgon, The New York Times
    Published: 2020-08-03 11:03:52 BdST

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Yair Netanyahu, older son of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Timesofisrael.com

An Israeli court Sunday ordered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s older son to stop harassing three people helping to lead protests against his father’s administration after he tweeted out their home addresses and cellphone numbers.

Judge Dorit Feinstein of the Jerusalem Magistrates Court also ordered Yair Netanyahu, to delete the tweet, which called on his more than 88,000 followers to demonstrate in front of the homes of the protest leaders.

“I instruct him to refrain for the next six months from harassing the petitioners in every shape, way and form,” Feinstein wrote in her decision.

The ruling came a day after large crowds of protesters across the country demanded Netanyahu’s ouster, criticizing his handling of the economic and health problems stemming from the coronavirus and arguing that he should not be permitted to serve as prime minister while under indictment on corruption charges.

The judge said in her decision that she was concerned the prime minister’s son would continue to harass the petitioners and infringe on their privacy, adding that he did not rebuke calls for violence that were posted in response to his tweet.

One of the protest leaders, Yitzhak Ben Gonen, who represented himself and the two other petitioners, said that Yair Netanyahu’s tweet prompted incessant phone calls, and that each of the three received death threats from callers.

“We are very happy about this legal victory, but the threats keep coming,” said Ben Gonen, who is a member of A New Contract, an anti-Netanyahu group popularly known as “Crime Minister.” The group says Netanyahu should not be able to serve as prime minister while on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The trial got underway in May, and is still in its initial stages.

Later Sunday, the younger Netanyahu deleted the tweet, but in a series of other social media posts, he strongly criticised the court’s ruling, calling it Kafkaesque.

He also contended that courts in Israel would one day ban Israelis from voting for his father’s Likud party and order all those on the political right placed in “re-education camps.”

“For a long time, Israel hasn’t been a democratic state,” he wrote in another post, remarking that a petitioner, Haim Shadmi, had been recorded speaking about hurling a firebomb at the prime minister’s official residence but that Shadmi was still permitted to protest near it. “There’s a law for right-wingers and another law for left-wingers,” the Facebook post said.

Yair Netanyahu, 29, is a fierce defender of his father and has a history of stoking controversy through his social media posts, some of which even the prime minister has condemned.

In December 2018, the son wrote on Facebook that he wished the deaths of two Israeli soldiers killed by a Palestinian gunman in the West Bank would be “avenged,” adding, “There will never be peace with the monsters in human form known since 1964 as ‘Palestinians.’ ” In a separate post at the time, he wrote that he would prefer an Israel without Muslim residents.

Facebook removed those posts following a flurry of complaints. It said they included hate speech and violated its community standards.

In February, Yair Netanyahu posted on Twitter a picture of a young Israeli, Dana Cassidy, who had been photographed earlier with Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White party. He also posted unsubstantiated accusations that Gantz engaged in extramarital affairs.

The posts prompted some of the son’s followers to spread unfounded rumours that Cassidy and Gantz were having an affair.

Gantz has repeatedly clashed with the prime minister even though they are now coalition partners.

And in a tweet in May, the prime minister’s son questioned how Dana Weiss, a well-known Israeli journalist, got her job at Channel 12, a major Israeli television outlet. That tweet led some of Yair Netanyahu’s followers to make unsubstantiated allegations that Weiss had sexual relations with her bosses to get her position.

The son apologised for that tweet — after Weiss and Channel 12 threatened to file a lawsuit against him.

Ben Gonen, the lawyer representing his fellow protest leaders, said he sensed that the protests were gaining momentum. “We see young people, who are very angry about the situation in Israel and determined to change it,” he said. “It’s too early to determine if we will change everything, but I feel that something important and new is happening.”

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