Former Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon disclosed today that he already has plans for spending the money that he hopes to win in his $50 million libel suit against Time Inc.
Speaking with reporters outside the courtroom after the nearly month-long trial recessed for the day, Sharon talked excitedly about how he would establish a fund Israelis could draw on for lawsuits if they believe they are libeled.
He said he would also launch a worldwide educational program on "the dangers of terror, Arab terror" with some of the money.
"Pay me first," Sharon's lead lawyer in the case, Milton S. Gould, interjected with a broad smile when he overheard a portion of his client's hallway interview.
Sharon, now minister of industry and trade, has been under rising criticism in Israel about his absence from the country at a time of critical economic problems. Today he sought to emphasize that he was not waging a legal battle for personal gain, a point he has made previously in interviews and courtroom testimony.
"People keep asking what I'm going to do with the money if I win," Sharon volunteered. "One thing I have decided is that if I win, every cent after covering expenses will be given to a fund I am going to establish, and this fund will have the role and the goal to fight every libel against the Jewish people and the state of Israel.
"The fund will be dealing with the dangers of terror, Arab terror, local terror in our area, which we have been dealing with for the last 100 years now," he said.
"I found that it's very important that people around the world understand the danger of terror and the heart of terror is the PLO backed by the Soviets."
It is not clear what impression Sharon or his Time magazine adversaries have made on the nine New Yorkers in the jury box. One juror, a former citizen of Nicaragua, was excused last week after telling the judge that she had come to feel that Sharon's ascendancy in Israeli politics seemed comparable to the rise of the Sandinistas in her former country.
But Sharon clearly believes that he has already scored during the trial, both in the acknowledgment by Time correspondent David Halevy that he had no source for a key detail in the article at issue and in the testimony of former Time Jerusalem bureau chief Harry Kelly that, in hindsight, he would have used different language in the article.
"I see already some gain in the fight," Sharon told the New York correspondent for the independent Israeli daily Haaretz in an interview Monday.
Sharon supporters were alsoby Judge Abraham D. Sofaer's remarks to Time's lawyers during a private conference Monday. According to a transcript released today, the judge told them he did not think they have "much of a chance" of persuading the jury that the article was not defamatory.
To prove libel, Sharon must demonstrate not only that it was defamatory and false but also that Time published the information either knowing it was untrue or harboring serious doubts about its accuracy.
Judge Sofaer's remarks came as Time's lawyers asked him to instruct the jury on the weight they were to give questions and answers resulting from the judge's frequent intervention to examine witnesses. Sofaer elicited the damaging admission from Halevy and played a primary role in getting Kelly to acknowledge second thoughts about the way the article was worded.
Sofaer promised that he will tell jurors "at the appropriate time" that "my questions do not reflect my conclusions at all on many of the issues in this case."
Time senior writer William E. Smith -- who wrote the February 1983 article from files sent to the magazine's New York headquarters by its bureaus in the Middle East, Europe and Washington -- was on the witness stand for a second time today.
Smith described Time's system for assembling and editing cover stories and discussed his "state of mind" as he wrote the article, which reported that Sharon had discussed with leaders of Lebanon's Christian Phalangist Party the need for them to take revenge on the day before Sharon allowed Phalangist militiamen into two Beirut refugee camps, where they massacred hundreds of Palestinians.
Referring frequently to a folder of Time articles on Sharon and the Phalangists as well as articles from The Washington Post and The New York Times, Smith said, "Taken together, this material deals with his personality, his great ambition. It implies brashness, recklessness. It implies he moves without consulting his colleagues.
"It all suggested to me that there was plausibility behind Mr. Halevy's short dispatch" reporting on Sharon's conversation with the Phalangist leaders, Smith said.