Thursday, October 03, 2013
One of the Most Important Legal Victories for Israel's (semi-) Democracy
1. A few years back one of the worst incidents of leftist suppression of freedom of speech took place in Israel. If you were not back then on the distribution list for these Plautisms, you probably never heard about it, because the leftist media in Israel all but ignored it.
The incident involved a high school teacher named Yisrael Shiran. He was fired by the Labor Party's Minister of Education serving under the government headed by Shimon Peres. Tamir may be best remembered for her campaign to defend "female circumcision" in the Third World (for details see http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Blogs/Message.aspx/2274). She fired the hapless teacher because he had dared to express objections to the indoctrination of students into the ideological positions of Yitzhak Rabin, or what the Ministry was calling the "Rabin Legacy." Shiran was all in favor of teaching the students about the horror of the assassination itself and the violation of Israeli democracy that it represented. But Rabin's political ideas, especially the Oslo debacle, were a matter of partisan controversy and debate and should not be rammed down the throats of students. Unlike clitoridectomies, Tamir saw no reason why such opinions should be tolerated in civilized society. Shiran was fired. It will not surprise you to hear that Yuli Tamir is still on the faculty of Tel Aviv University.
At the time, I issued a challenge through Isracampus and on some chat lists for academics calling on all of the law professors in Israel to speak out against the firing of Shiran and its anti-democratic implications. You can see my challenge here: http://isracampus.org.il/third%20level%20pages/Israeli%20extremism%20-%20challenge%20to%20Israeli%20Law%20Profs%20-%20%20Rabbi%20Shiran.htm Not a single law professor was willing to do so. Law schools in Israel are the occupied territories of the Left. One prof in particular rejected the appeal in vulgar terms (see http://www.isracampus.org.il/third%20level%20pages/HebrewU%20-%20Alon%20Harel%20-%20refuses%20to%20support%20freedom%20of%20speech.htm). It goes without saying that not a single leftist in Israel objected to the firing of Shiran for expressing his political opinion. Leftism in Israel is by and large a form of fascism and Israeli leftists never defend freedom of speech for non-leftists.
Now, years later, the legal matter involving the firing has come to its denouement. Shiran successfully sued the Israeli Ministry of Education and was awarded 400,000 NIS this week. This is a GREAT victory for Israel's (semi-) democracy. Here is the full story
Man Who Wouldn't Teach 'Rabin Legacy' Wins NIS 400,000
Assistant Principal fired for objecting to program exalting former PM Yitzchak Rabin has been awarded 400,000 shekels.
An Assistant Principal who was fired for objecting to a program extolling the legacy of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin has been awarded 400,000 shekels.
Yisrael Shiran expressed strong disagreement in the year 2000 to a proposed program to honor Rabin and teach students about his "legacy of peace" on the occasion of the annual Rabin Day memorial.
Rabin led Israel into the Oslo Accords, under which the PLO terrorist group renounced terrorism and was allowed to settle in Judea, Samaria and Gaza as the Palestinian Authority, and to obtain weapons. He was assassinated in 1995 by Yigal Amir, who said his objection to Rabin's agreements with the PLO was the motive for the slaying.
Whilst nearly all Israelis, from left to right, condemn the assassination, many also reject the lionization of Rabin by the Israeli left, saying that the Oslo Accords were in fact a disaster for the Jewish State and resulted in a wave of terrorism which killed and injured thousands.
Mourning his murder is one thing, they say, but promoting his legacy is something else entirely.
In a letter to his superiors, Shiran echoed such sentiments:
"Ever since the horrible murder of the belated Prime Minister, the Education Ministry has been ordering that we hold memorial rallies and talk to students about Rabin's legacy of peace…. We cannot in any way agree that a man who gave weapons to enemies who are seeking to destroy us is someone whose legacy, path and personality we should be discussing."
After he was fired, Shiran sued the Education Ministry, the former Haifa District administrator Yaakov Weisel, former National Head of Bible Studies Yissaschar Goelman, and the former director of elementary education, Sara Reuter.
On Thursday morning, the Jerusalem District Court ruled in Shiran's favor, and ordered that he be given 400,000 shekels in compensation.
"This is an important day," Shiran told Arutz Sheva. "There's no joy like that of having things resolved after a hard period, even a very hard period."
"I'm grateful to G-d and to my attorney for this ruling," he added.
2. Speaking of victories in the courtroom, here is how SLAPP suits are dealt with in actual democracies:
- October 2, 2013, 7:55 p.m. ET
An American Blogger vs. Palestine's First Family
A writer who detailed Yasser Abbas's business holdings found himself being sued—in the U.S.
Jonathan Schanzer has been documenting abuses by the Palestinian Authority for years. Little did the counterterrorism analyst expect to find himself at the sharp end of the PA's spear—not in the West Bank but on U.S. soil.
It began with a blog post. In June 2012, Mr. Schanzer, a vice president at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote an online opinion post for Foreign Policy magazine about allegations of corruption surrounding the sons of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Tarek and Yasser.
The response came quickly: In September 2012, Yasser Abbas filed a libel suit against Mr. Schanzer and Foreign Policy in a federal court in the District of Columbia. Following a yearlong legal saga, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan tossed out the case last week, concluding that Mr. Schanzer's statements in the article "are either not capable of defamatory meaning or are protected statements of opinion" under the First Amendment.
Judge Sullivan applied the District of Columbia's anti-SLAPP statute, which aims to curb "strategic lawsuits against public participation"—in other words, suits intended to silence critics. The decision is a significant victory against foreign poobahs who use Western judicial systems to muzzle commentators.
Mr. Schanzer had detailed Yasser Abbas's business empire for Foreign Policy, noting that it includes a monopoly on the distribution of some U.S. cigarette brands in the Palestinian territories; an engineering firm with offices across the Middle East that in 2005 built a sewage system in Hebron, with almost $2 million paid by the U.S. government; the chairmanship of a publicly traded insurance company; and a construction firm that has also received U.S. taxpayer funds.
Yasser Abbas is not just a successful businessman. He has served in official capacities in his father's regime: Last year Yasser delivered a message from his father to the emir of Kuwait, according to the Kuwaiti government. The Kazakh government in 2008 described him as a "special envoy" of the PA. Though Yasser's younger brother, Tarek, is less politically involved, according to Mr. Schanzer he "is just as ambitious in the business world."
All this led Mr. Schanzer to ask, regarding the Abbas brothers: "Have they enriched themselves at the expense of regular Palestinians—and even U.S. taxpayers?" Mr. Schanzer paraphrased the allegations of a former PA adviser, Mohammed Rashid—who himself was convicted in absentia of corruption by a Palestinian court last June—that President Abbas has "socked away $100 million in ill-gotten gains." Mr. Schanzer also said that "several Palestinians told me that the Abbas family dynasty is common knowledge" in the territories.
As Judge Sullivan noted in his opinion dismissing the case, the Abbas brothers "have filed defamation lawsuits or threatened to sue for libel on three separate occasions against an Israeli television channel, Reuters and Al Jazeera." In his suit against Mr. Schanzer and Foreign Policy, Yasser Abbas accused the defendants of "posing libelous questions and printing innuendos." The questions Mr. Schanzer asked regarding the Abbas brothers' wealth, Yasser argued, didn't constitute opinions but false assertions of fact. (Tarek Abbas didn't sue in this case.)
In his complaint, Yasser Abbas disputed some of Mr. Schanzer's assertions about his businesses. But after the defendants' lawyers filed their anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss, Yasser Abbas responded by arguing that "the article's reference to these businesses is not the basis for Plaintiff's libel claim." The focus of the case was thus narrowed: Were Mr. Schanzer's pointed questions about the source of Yasser Abbas's wealth libelous, as the plaintiff argued?
Judge Sullivan's answer was no. He held that the case involves claims made about a public figure and implicates an important issue of public interest, namely, "the relationship between the United States and the Palestinian Authority." The case thus fit within D.C.'s definition of a "strategic lawsuit." As a result, the defendants were entitled to a speedy dismissal unless Yasser Abbas could produce evidence early on that showed his claims are viable.
Such evidence was wanting, the court said. The questions Mr. Schanzer raised about the Abbas family's wealth were just that—questions—"however embarrassing or unpleasant they might be" to the plaintiff. Even if they amounted to assertions, the judge went on, Mr. Schanzer's questions were opinions protected by the Constitution since they appeared online in Foreign Policy's "Arguments" section and referred to other outlets' reporting.
"This decision was a strong affirmation of the First Amendment right to raise questions about public figures," Nathan Siegel, Mr. Schanzer's lawyer, told me. Louis Adolfsen, who is representing Yasser Abbas, said in an emailed statement that his client is currently reviewing the decision. Mr. Adolfsen added that "reasonable minds can differ as to whether the anti-SLAPP statute applies in federal court."
The battle against SLAPPs goes on. Judge Sullivan's decision in the Abbas case was the latest among several in which federal judges applied state anti-SLAPP statutes in federal court. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has yet to weigh in on the question. There is no federal anti-SLAPP law on the books, and just over half the states have adopted such laws. Other writers criticizing powerful figures remain vulnerable to malicious suits.
Mr. Ahmari is an assistant books editor at the Journal.