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Benny Gantz, former Israeli military chief of staff, and presidential candidate, speaks during an electoral campaign gathering on 19 February 2019, in Tel Aviv [JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images]

Gantz to sue Israel newspaper over sexual misconduct claims

Head of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance, Benny Gantz, is to sue an Israeli daily which claimed that he sexually harassed two women.

Gantz today filed a one million shekel ($277,000) libel lawsuit against Israel Hayom – the country’s largest circulation newspaper – after the daily published allegations that Gantz sexually harassed two women over 40 years ago.

The allegations were made by an unnamed classmate of Gantz who claimed that, while they were at school together in 1976, Gantz “exposed himself” to the classmate’s mother and younger sister, the Times of Israel (ToI) reported. For his part Gantz vehemently denies the allegations, saying in a statement that “there is no truth to these stories. These things never happened; these are awful lies about me that amount to blood libel”.

The allegations were quickly deemed dubious; when Israel’s Channel 12 reached out to the classmate’s sister to confirm the allegation, she told the TV station she “did not remember” the incident. The mother, the other witness to the alleged incident, has since passed away, ToI added.

Gantz has framed Israel Hayom’s publication of the allegations in the context of the country’s upcoming general election on 9 April. Israel Hayom is known to be a staunch supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leading Gantz to claim the story was “published with the clear intention to advance the political interests of Netanyahu”. In his letter of intent to sue, Gantz claimed that Israel Hayom acted with “blatant journalistic negligence, without conducting minimal mandatory examinations and [with] a lack of good faith,” before adding: “Israel Hayom decided to take every means to promote the political interest of Mr. Netanyahu.”

Gantz’s public profile has grown exponentially since he announced the launch of his Israel Resilience (Hosen L’Yisrael) party in December. Gantz quickly proved popular in the polls, a reception bolstered by the formation of the Blue and White alliance – a merger with the other major center-left party, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. After bringing in other ex-Israeli army chiefs of staff Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi – who is expected to attract Mizrahi (Middle Eastern Jewish) voters – Blue and White has now surpassed Netanyahu’s Likud party in the polls and poses the only major challenge to his premiership.

In response, Netanyahu has doubled down on his campaign efforts, particularly in light of the decision taken last month by Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, to indict him for corruption. The announcement was a blow to Netanyahu, who had for months been lobbying Mandelblit to delay the verdict until after the election so as not to prejudice voters against him. Despite the indictment, Netanyahu could still serve a fourth consecutive term if he is re-elected on 9 April, pending court proceedings.

Netanyahu was indicted in three corruption cases – dubbed Case 1000, 2000 and 4000respectively – for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. In Case 2000, Netanyahu was investigated for promising Arnon Mozes – the owner of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aronoth – that he would curtail the circulation of Israel Hayom, Mozes’ main competitor publication, in return for favourable coverage of him and his policies.

Israel Hayom is owned by Netanyahu’s friend and confidant, Sheldon Adelson. Adelson – a Jewish-American casino magnate – has long been a controversial figure for his involvement in the US’ pro-Israel lobby and for donating billions of dollars to Israel.

In February, a US court reopened a billion-dollar lawsuit against Adelson and a number of other Israel mega-donors for war crimes and support of Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). Other defendants in the case include Jewish-American businessman Larry Ellison, Elliot Abrams, as well as two major Israeli banks — Bank Leumi and Bank Hapoalim – and technology company Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE).

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