TORONTO — An Ontario court has cleared the way for a Canadian billionaire to sue a leading Israeli newspaper for libel.
In a 2-1 ruling, the province’s top court found that Toronto-based real estate developer Mitchell Goldhar, who owns the Tel Aviv-based Maccabi Tel Aviv Football Club, may sue Ha’aretz in Canada over an article he argued impugned his reputation.
The Ha’aretz 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 by David Marouani 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 both English and Hebrew and was available in Canada.
Goldhar sued in Ontario, claiming $700,000 Cdn in damages for libel against Ha’aretz, its sports editor and the reporter. He argued the article suggested “personality disorder or mental illness” and that he made “irrational” business decisions.
He also said the article had significant factual errors and “fabrications.”
The newspaper 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, it argued.
In March last year, 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. Ha’aretz appealed.
Ontario’s Court of Appeals upheld the lower judgment, saying 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 that “this is not a case of libel tourism.”