By Zafrir Rinat

Daniel Morgenstern, a veteran environmental activist and economic adviser, has fought for eco-friendly legislation for years.

His efforts paid off in 2001 when the Knesset passed the Deposit Law on Beverage Containers, requiring soft drink manufacturers to recycle 65 percent of all bottles with volumes of less than 1.5 liters. A recycling corporation was then established in order to implement the law, and a 25-agorot deposit was set for every beverage container to make it worthwhile for consumers to return used bottles to stores.

For the past three years, however, Morgenstern has been in and out of courts (and debt), fighting three libel lawsuits filed against him by the recycling cooperation tasked with enforcing the very law he championed for so long.

Morgenstern’s attorney, Oded Afik, claims that the corporation is trying to silence his client. The recycling firm, meanwhile, maintains that Morgenstern has been engaged in a relentless effort to smear its good name.

The matter began two and a half years ago, when Morgenstern accused the recycling corporation of trying to undermine the expansion of the deposit law to include bottles with volumes larger than 1.5 liters.

The case was ultimately dropped after the activist agreed to write a letter of apology, but when he later returned to making incendiary remarks against the firm a second lawsuit was filed. That case remains pending at Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.

Several months ago the company filed a third lawsuit, this time for NIS 50,000 in damages, after Morgenstern accused the corporation of being linked to “Israel’s criminal underworld” during a radio interview.

Morgenstern’s attorney wrote in response: “What my client said was correct. The company is effectively sabotaging the possibility of the public returning [larger] containers [for recycling], and prefers to make use of the services of collectors that have ties to the criminal underworld.”

“We agreed to retract the initial lawsuit after receiving a letter of apology,” corporation chairman Nehama Ronen said in response, “but when Morgenstern resumed making accusations we sued him again. As for the current case, we cannot reiterate the remarks over which the lawsuit is being filed.”

Morgenstern’s case reached as far as the Knesset plenum last month. During a discussion on passing an amendment to the Deposit Law, MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) asked Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan to pressure the firm to drop its libel suit against the activist.

“There is a public debate over this, and it is inappropriate for this kind of matter to be settled in court,” Khenin said.