Canadian billionaire can sue Israeli newspaper for libel in Ontario, appeals court rules

TORONTO (JTA) – Ontario’s top court has cleared the way for a Canadian billionaire who owns an Israeli soccer team to sue a leading Israeli newspaper for libel.

In a 2-1 ruling this week, the Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that Toronto-based real estate developer Mitchell Goldhar, who owns the Maccabi Tel Aviv club, may sue Haaretz in Ontario over an article he argued impugned his reputation.

The Haaretz article, published in November 2011, asserted that Goldhar imported his management model for the team from his main business interest – a partnership with Walmart to operate shopping centres in Canada.

“Within the club,” the article noted, “there are those who believe that Goldhar’s managerial culture is based on overconcentration bordering on megalomania, penny-pinching and a lack of long-term planning,” court documents show.

The article also was published on the newspaper’s websites in English and Hebrew and was available in Canada.

Goldhar sued in Ontario, claiming $700,000 Canadian in damages for libel against Haaretz, its sports editor and the reporter, David Marouani. He argued the article suggested “personality disorder or mental illness” and that he made “irrational” business decisions. Goldhar also said the article had significant factual errors and “fabrications.”

Haaretz countered that Ontario courts had no jurisdiction to hear the suit. Any action should be held in Israel or the claim stayed as an abuse of process, the newspaper argued.

In March 2015, a lower court sided with Goldhar, finding that as many as 300 people in Canada had read the article online and that Ontario had jurisdiction. Haaretz appealed.

The Court of Appeals in upholding the judgment said there was no abuse of process.

“What is important is that the alleged sting of the article is very much related to how Goldhar conducts business in Canada because the article draws a link between Goldhar’s management model and his Canadian business,” the appeals court said in its ruling. “Although the main subject of the article may be the management of an Israeli soccer team, the article makes Goldhar’s management model – and its Canadian origins – an integral part of that subject.”

The court said “this is not a case of libel tourism.”

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