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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2ndR) and his wife Sara arrive at a courtroom to testify in a libel lawsuit they filed against an Israeli journalist, at the Magistrate Court in Tel Aviv, Israel March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Heidi Levine/Pool(reuters_tickers)
By Maayan Lubell
TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife testified in court on Tuesday that a journalist had invented a story that Sara Netanyahu once ordered her husband out of their car during a row.
Netanyahu, 67, described the report of the alleged incident as "ludicrous", "preposterous" and a complete fabrication. He said he and his wife had decided to bring a libel suit because they felt the journalist had gone too far and made it up.
Igal Sarna wrote on his Facebook page a year ago that an angry Sara Netanyahu had ordered the prime minister's convoy to stop on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway in the middle of the night because she did not want him in the car any longer.
"I am uncertain as to whether she threw him out or whether he ejected himself from the vehicle," Sarna told Netanyahu's lawyer during testimony at Tel Aviv's magistrates court.
Sarna said he had heard the story from a friend who heard it from another friend in the prime minister's security detail. He had decided not to call witnesses to substantiate his allegations so as not to get anyone in trouble.
The original Facebook post gained only 1,500 shares, but the court case has garnered far more attention.
It has also raised questions about the influence of Sara Netanyahu, 58, in the prime minister's administration. Over the years, she has been involved in a number of lawsuits, either as a plaintiff or a defendant.
Netanyahu and his wife have a stormy relationship with the Israeli media. In January, he described the media as "left-wing" and "Bolshevik" and said they were out to bring him down.
The prime minister spoke full-throatedly in court, sometimes gesticulating. He looked from the magistrates to reporters and over to his wife.
"He crossed the line," Netanyahu said of Sarna, banging his fist on the stand. "It's a gross lie, absurd."
Asked if he always told the truth on Facebook, a medium the prime minister uses almost daily, the prime minister replied: "I try."
The fourth-term leader is under police investigation in two cases, one involving his conversations with a newspaper publisher about limiting competition in exchange for more favourable coverage and the other about gifts, including cigars and champagne, the Netanyahus received from businessmen.
Netanyahu denies wrongdoing.
The judge on Tuesday would not allow Sarna's lawyers to ask the couple about their relationship or past incidents.
In 2016, a Jerusalem labour court ruled that Sara Netanyahu insulted and raged at household staff in the prime minister's official residence. She is currently under police investigation for using state funds for personal spending.
"Everything that is published about me, it's all lies, evil lies that bear no connection with who I really am," she told the court. "The media uses me as a tool to try and topple the prime minister."
The Netanyahus are seeking damages of 280,000 shekels ($76,500), an apology and removal of Sarna's Facebook post, their lawyer said.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; editing by Luke Baker and Andrew Roche)