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Ex-premiers spar in Israeli defamation suit

by The Associated Press | January 11, 2022 at 3:43 a.m.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sits in the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, during a preliminary hearing in a defamation lawsuit. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife and son appeared in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s court Monday for the opening of their case against Olmert, Netanyahu’s predecessor as Israel’s prime minister. The Netanyahus are suing Olmert for saying they suffered from “mental illness” during an interview last year. (Avshalom Sassoni/Pool Photo via AP)

JERUSALEM -- 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.

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 across the room.

Netanyahu is suing Olmert for remarks he made last year in 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 behavior, crazy behavior."

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

As for Netanyahu, 72, 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.

  photo  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. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife and son appeared in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s court Monday for the opening of their case against Olmert, Netanyahu’s predecessor as Israel’s prime minister. The Netanyahus are suing Olmert for saying they suffered from “mental illness” during an interview last year. (Avshalom Sassoni/Pool Photo via AP)
 
 
  photo  Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, left, and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second right and his wife Sarah, sit in the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, during a preliminary hearing in a defamation lawsuit. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife and son appeared in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s court Monday for the opening of their case against Olmert, Netanyahu’s predecessor as Israel’s prime minister. The Netanyahus are suing Olmert for saying they suffered from “mental illness” during an interview last year. (Avshalom Sassoni/Pool Photo via AP)
 
 
  photo  Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sits in the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, during a preliminary hearing in a defamation lawsuit. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife and son appeared in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s court Monday for the opening of their case against Olmert, Netanyahu’s predecessor as Israel’s prime minister. The Netanyahus are suing Olmert for saying they suffered from “mental illness” during an interview last year. (Avshalom Sassoni/Pool Photo via AP)
 
 
  photo  Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center right, and son Yair, center left, stand in the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, during a preliminary hearing in a defamation lawsuit. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife and son appeared in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s court Monday for the opening of their case against Olmert, Netanyahu’s predecessor as Israel’s prime minister. The Netanyahus are suing Olmert for saying they suffered from “mental illness” during an interview last year. (Avshalom Sassoni/Pool Photo via AP)
 
 
  photo  Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah, stand in the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, during a preliminary hearing in a defamation lawsuit. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife and son appeared in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s court Monday for the opening of their case against Olmert, Netanyahu’s predecessor as Israel’s prime minister. The Netanyahus are suing Olmert for saying they suffered from “mental illness” during an interview last year. (Avshalom Sassoni/Pool Photo via AP)
 
 

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