Appeals court hears claims in Adelson v. NJDC lawsuit

A federal appeals court heard arguments in a bid by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson to reinstate a defamation lawsuit against the National Jewish Democratic Council and two of its formal principals.

Arguments in the 2nd Circuit on Thursday focused on whether a hyperlink in an online NJDC news release constituted adequate attribution to a source, which would protect the NJDC and its former chairman, Marc Stanley, and president, David Harris, from charges that they were peddling the allegedly defamatory claims, according to a report by the Courthouse News Service.

The federal judge who dismissed the case last year said hyperlinks provided even stronger protection than footnotes.

The lawsuit was based on an NJDC news release during the 2012 election campaign that linked to an Associated Press account of a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by a fired casino employee against Adelson, a major funder of Republican candidates.

The former employee alleged that Adelson allowed prostitutes to ply their trade in his casinos in Macau, China. The three-judge panel reserved its decision.

Sheldon Adelson sues Jewish Democratic group

Sheldon Adelson is suing the National Jewish Democratic Council for defamation.

Lawyers for Adelson, the casino magnate and major Republican donor, had sent a warning letter to the NJDC and to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last week after each body publicly stated that Adelson had approved of prostitution at his properties in Macau, China. That allegation appeared in a lawsuit file by a former Adelson employee, Steven Jacobs, who had managed Adelson’s Macua business until being fired in 2010.

The DCCC apologized last week for referencing the allegation in press releases sent June 22 and July 2 that called on Republicans not to take Adelson’s money. But NJDC has refused to excise the allegation from an online petition calling on Republicans to stop accepting money from Adelson.

Adelson filed the defamation lawsuit this week; the NJDC shared news of the lawsuit in a statement sent to reporters.

“Referencing mainstream press accounts examining the conduct of a public figure and his business ventures—as we did—is wholly appropriate,” NJDC said in a statement. “Indeed, it is both an American and a Jewish obligation to ask hard questions of powerful individuals like Mr. Adelson, just as it is incumbent upon us to praise his wonderful philanthropic endeavors.”

The statement called Adelson’s lawsuit a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” or SLAPP, a term used for legal maneuvers aimed not at obtaining justice but silence.

“We know that we were well within our rights, and we will defend ourselves against this SLAPP suit as far and as long as necessary,” NJDC said. “We simply will not be bullied, and we will not be silenced.”

Adelson’s publicist, Ron Reese, had no immediate comment.

ADL: Anti-Muslim sentiment ‘significant’

Anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States is “significant,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.

“A significant level of anti-Muslim bigotry has surfaced in a variety of public forums over the past year,” said an ADL statement accompanying a letter and background information the ADL submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose civil rights committee was considering anti-Muslim activity on Tuesday.

“Much of it has focused on various plans to build or expand mosques around the country,” the statement said. “Many of those debates have been characterized by unfair stereotyping and prejudice that have singled out the Muslim American community for special scrutiny and suspicion.”

The ADL set out gauges of anti-Muslim prejudice: “Reported hate crimes, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints, efforts to prevent mosques from being built in communities, and unwarranted legislative efforts to target a phantom ‘threat’—the infiltration of Sharia law into America’s judicial system.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called the hearing in part to counter a recent U.S. House of Representatives hearing on radicalism among U.S. Muslims.

Ex-AIPACer Suing Former Employer for Defamation


WASHINGTON (JTA)—Steve Rosen, the former AIPAC foreign policy chief charged with receiving classified information, is suing his former employer for defamation, JTA has learned.

Rosen filed a civil action March 2 in the District of Columbia Superior Court seeking $21 million from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, its officers at the time of his dismissal in 2005 and an outside spokesman hired to deal specifically with the case.

Should it come to trial, the civil case promises revelations of how AIPAC works its sensitive relations with the executive branch and allegedly capitulated to government pressure to fire Rosen and Keith Weissman, its then-Iran analyst.

Weissman, Rosen’s co-defendant in the criminal case under way in a federal court in Alexandria, Va., is not a plaintiff in the civil suit. He and his lawyers declined comment, as did Rosen.

Both of Rosen’s lawyers—in the criminal case and in his suit against AIPAC—did not return calls requesting comment.

The core of the case is the repeated claims by Patrick Dorton, the outside spokesman for AIPAC named in the suit, that Rosen and Weissman were fired because they “did not comport with standards that AIPAC expects of all its employees.”

AIPAC’s regular spokesman, Joshua Block, referred questions to Dorton. In turn, Dorton issued a statement saying that AIPAC and the others named in Rosen’s suit would defend themselves vigorously.

“The complaint paints a false picture of what happened,” he told JTA, adding later that “AIPAC made all decisions in this situation with a determination to do the right thing.”

Rosen is not publicity-shy; he helped launch the recent successful effort to remove Charles Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, from the chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council. In his blog monitoring Obama administration Middle East policy, Rosen uncovered and highlighted a number of past controversial statements by Freeman praising Saudi Arabia and blaming Israel for the collapse of the Middle East peace process.

In seeking to prove that he was the victim of “false and defamatory statements” made on AIPAC’s behalf, the complaint describes Rosen as tumbling from the heights of a cozy relationship with the highest echelons of government to being shown the door at AIPAC.

Rosen describes his own status as a high-flying conduit between foreign policy mandarins and the policy community, journalists and foreign diplomats.

In the complaint, a copy of which was obtained by JTA, Rosen says he had the “requisite experience and expertise” to deal with those “with the authority to determine and differentiate which information disclosures would be harmful to the United States and which disclosures would benefit the United States.”

Rosen and Weissman allegedly received classified information having to do with Iran and its backing for terrorism. The case came to light following an FBI raid on AIPAC’s offices in August 2004.

After the FBI raid, AIPAC stood by the two employees, insisting they had done nothing wrong. Rosen says he even received a performance bonus. Seven months after the raid—just a month or so after Rosen received his bonus—in March 2005, Rosen and Weissman were fired. They were indicted in August of that year.

Rosen’s suit alleges that AIPAC gave in to government pressure to fire the two staffers, casting prosecutors in the case as making threats that would not be out of place in a legal drama.

“We could make real progress and get AIPAC out from under all of us,” the filing quotes a prosecutor as saying.

The filing draws its information from a motion by Rosen and Weissman to have the criminal case dismissed in 2007. The motion said the government violated the defendants’ right to a defense by threatening to charge AIPAC as well unless it fired Rosen and Weissman and stopped paying their legal fees.

In sworn affidavits filed with the motion, lawyers for Rosen and Weissman quoted lawyers for AIPAC as saying that the decision to fire the two came under government pressure.

T.S. Ellis III, the federal judge trying the case, ultimately rejected the motion to dismiss but said its claims were credible. At the time of the May 2007 ruling, Dorton brushed aside the motion’s claims.

“AIPAC made all of its decisions in this case alone based on the facts of the situation and the organization’s intention to do the right thing,” he told JTA.

Within months, however, AIPAC agreed to pay a portion of Weissman’s legal fees and later came to a similar agreement for Rosen. Weissman’s legal team is still fund-raising for the defense.

Rosen’s central contention is that his actions comported with AIPAC practices, and that he provided his superiors with regular briefings about his efforts to gather information from government officials. The paragraph in the complaint outlining how AIPAC works suggests that the trial would lift the veil over exchanges with the government that AIPAC has long tried to keep under wraps.

“To be effective, organizations engaged in advocacy in the field of foreign policy need to have earlier and more detailed information about policy developments inside the government and diplomatic issues with other countries than is normally available to or needed by the wider public,” the complaint says. “Agencies of the government sometimes choose to provide such additional information about policy and diplomatic issues to these outside interest groups in order to win support for what they are doing among important domestic constituencies and to send messages to select target audiences.”

The complaint also asserts that the statements made by AIPAC’s outside spokesman “might influence a jury that will hear the misdirected case brought against him by the government.” The criminal trial, which has been delayed multiple times, is now set for June 2.

The filing also alleges that “through their publication of the falsehoods about Mr. Rosen, defendant achieved an increase of millions of dollars in revenue for AIPAC, whereas had they told the truth, AIPAC might well have suffered a significant decrease in fund-raising, as well as an increase in legal costs.”

Sources close to the criminal case say that Weissman and the criminal defense team are not troubled by the lawsuit, but think that making the case that Rosen had been defamed would be much easier after an acquittal or after the case had been dropped by the government.

Increasing calls on the Obama administration to drop the case include most recently an editorial Wednesday in the Washington Post.

The case is now being seen to have been an instrument of Bush administration efforts to expand secrecy laws. Prosecutors charged Rosen and Weissman under a rarely cited section of the 1917 Espionage Act that criminalizes the receipt of classified information by civilians; the section has never led to a successful prosecution.

Rosen in filing his lawsuit may have felt pressed for time, as defamation suits must be filed within a year of the offending statement.

The most recent instance of Dorton, the spokesman, claiming publicly that Rosen and Weissman did not comport with AIPAC rules came in a story by The New York Times on March 3, 2008—a year less a day before Rosen filed his suit. The suit contends that Dorton repeated the claim to a reporter for the Forward in October; that instance apparently was not published.

A Superior Court judge set June 5 for a hearing to set a trial date regarding Rosen’s claims. By the time Rosen’s civil lawsuit comes to trial, he might have a dismissal or acquittal under his belt, increasing his chances for victory.

Rosen’s filing asserts that at AIPAC he “was one of the principal officials who, along with Executive Director Howard Kohr and a few other individuals, were expected to maintain relationships with [government] agencies, receive such information and share it with AIPAC Board of Directors and to Senior Staff for possible further distribution.”

Kohr is named as a defendant, as are AIPAC’s lay leadership at the time: Bernice Manocherian, then president; Howard Friedman, then president-elect (and a former president of JTA’s board of directors); and Amy Friedkin, then the immediate past president.

Also named are alleged members of an “advisory group” set up to deal directly with the case. These names reinforce the impression that a small core of members of AIPAC’s board continues to take the lead in determining AIPAC’s direction. They include past presidents Lonnie Kaplan, Larry Weinberg, Bob Asher and Ed Levy.

The complaint asks for $10 million from AIPAC, $500,000 each from all 12 other defendants and $5 million collectively from all the defendants.

Also named are alleged members of an “advisory group” set up to deal directly with the case. These names reinforce the impression that a small core of members of AIPAC’s board continues to take the lead in determining AIPAC’s direction. They include past presidents Lonnie Kaplan, Larry Weinberg, Bob Asher and Ed Levy.

The complaint asks for $10 million from AIPAC, $500,000 each from all 12 other defendants and $5 million collectively from all the defendants.

Courage Under Fire

Tziporah enjoyed extraordinary social status within her native land. But after Yitro, the priest of Midian, gave his precious daughter as a wife for Moshe, she was the
subject of gossip among a new people (Bamidbar 12:1). Hakodesh Barukh Hu intervened on Tziporah’s behalf, but there is no record that anyone else spoke up for her.

It is particularly painful to think that slander and other such defamation might arise, however infrequently, amid a people whose rituals call for covering the challah to spare its feelings when the wine is blessed first. Likewise, the Kohen is commanded not to ascend the altar on steps — rather, he must walk gingerly up a ramp — because his garment might expose some of his private parts, thus embarrassing the stones.

Notwithstanding these sensitivities, slander exists in the world, and our rabbis endeavored to confront its challenges long before defamation and libel cases like New York Times Co. v. Sullivan and its progeny wound its way through America’s secular courts.

The laws of lashon hara, or evil speech, are numerous. For example, within certain rubrics it is not necessarily lashon hara during an Israeli election to remind people of how Israel fared the last time a particular candidate unsuccessfully led the Jewish state. It is not lashon hara to denigrate Neturei Karta, the anti-Zionist Charedim who attended Fatah events and Holocaust denial conferences. It is not lashon hara to refer to former President Jimmy “Karta,” Holocaust denier David Irving or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with the utmost contempt.

When someone inquires whether someone is suitable as a pending wedding match or as a business partner, halacha permits and requires candor.

However, in a different context, a roll of the eyes, a smirk or a snicker can be a grave sin. When the intention is to reduce a person by conveying a negative meaning that has no independent halachic justification, the conveyor of the lashon hara can forfeit rewards in the world to come for all eternity.

Perhaps the challenge that is most difficult is how to respond when, unexpectedly — sometimes amid friends — we find ourselves caught in a lashon hara environment.

Lashon hara can sneak into a conversation at the Shabbat table, introduced cleverly and surreptitiously by someone whose agenda manipulates the discussion in that direction.

Suddenly, you’re caught off guard. What do you do? Make a scene? Ruin dessert? Emerge déclassé? To remain silent is tantamount to tacit agreement, which emboldens a character assassin to believe he or she is making inroads and winning allies.

“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies,” says professor Albus Dumbledore in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.” And that indeed is the only prescriptive: to show courage, even at the cost of friendship. To speak up — because silence is not an option. To risk losing a friend — because losing a portion of paradise is not an option. To realize that someone willing to stain your soul at his or her Shabbat table may not be the best friend in your Rolodex.

In a memorable scene in the Oscar-winning 1947 film, “Gentleman’s Agreement,” Dorothy McGuire’s Kathy Lacey recounts to John Garfield’s Dave Goldman her fury after encountering an anti-Semite at a dinner party.

He asks, “What did you do?”

She responds that she sat there silently, allowing the slurs to continue flowing unimpeded. She did not have the courage to speak out.

Lashon hara is the ultimate anti-Semitism, a violation of the essence of Torah values that, if our guard is lowered, could emanate against Jews even from within the Jewish community, derogating one or more Jewish souls, assassinating an innocent Jew’s character, causing pain and suffering to its victims and targets, to family and friends. It threatens to tarnish and stain bystanders drawn within its ambit, often innocent bystanders — or bysitters — caught unexpectedly in the oral terrorist’s crossfire.

The only way to respond when unexpectedly finding oneself caught in a lashon hara environment is to speak out with bravery. To say, “My spouse and I did not come here to listen to this. Nor do we want our children exposed to this poisonous environment. We reject what is being said. We are here to talk about ideas. If need be, perhaps we can abide discussions about things. But if the conversation turns again to people, we will leave this environment and not return.”

That is courage under fire, Jewish style.

Rabbi Dov Fischer is rav of Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine and is adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School of Los Angeles.

Dance With Them That Brung You

Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, says that he’s opening up a new front in his organization’s 85-year campaign to protect Jews from defamation. This new fight is a little different from battles past, though, because its target is other Jews.

Foxman wants Jews to watch their language when they talk about fellow Jews. Otherwise somebody could get hurt. Another Israeli prime minister, for example.

As his first salvo, Foxman has issued an unusual public statement, calling on American Jewish community leaders to rein in “inflammatory rhetoric” and “hate speech” when debating Israeli policy. “Irresponsible and inflammatory opposition leads to irresponsible and inflammatory action,” he declared.

What worries him, Foxman said in an interview, is the flood of vitriol directed against Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu since he signed the Wye Memorandum and agreed to hand over 13 percent of the West Bank to Palestinian control.

It’s reminiscent of “the days before the Rabin assassination,” Foxman said. “It’s all the same words — ‘traitor,’ ‘enemy,’ ‘needs to be silenced.’ I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of Israeli press coverage I’m reading of hate rhetoric, of violent rhetoric, as if we didn’t learn anything the last time.”

What set off Foxman’s alarm bells, though, was some home-grown American rhetoric. In a statement issued last week, several prominent American Orthodox rabbis declared that the Israeli concessions contained in the Wye accord were “prohibited by Jewish law.”

The Wye agreement “poses a life-threatening danger to all of the residents of Israel,” the rabbis’ statement said. “Therefore, we have determined that it is prohibited by Jewish law to participate in this tragic and terrible agreement.” Also “prohibited by Jewish law” was Israeli government ratification of the pact.

The signers included two of America’s most respected talmudic authorities, Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik of the Brisk Yeshiva in Chicago and Rabbi Moshe Tendler of Yeshiva University in New York. A third signer, Rabbi Herschel Reichman of Yeshiva University, was said to be the statement’s initiator.

The statement appeared in Sunday’s New York Post as an ad, showing the National Council of Young Israel as sponsor. Young Israel denied any connection, however. The real sponsor, sources say, was a pro-settler group linked to right-wing philanthropist Irving Moskowitz.

Foxman says that the rabbis’ statement shocked him. “They’re speaking as though this is God’s word, God’s truth,” he said. When that kind of political absolutism enters political debates, impressionable youngsters sometimes decide to do God’s will with a bullet. It happened once in Israel already, when Yigal Amir decided to murder Yitzhak Rabin.

“What’s happening now is a continuation of what happened before,” Foxman said. “We have learned that words can kill. Right now, the rhetoric of hate is escalating rather than abating. People must stand up.”

The problem is more serious in Israel than here in the United States, of course. It’s in Israel, not here, that lives are at risk if Israel makes the wrong decisions. It’s there that politicians might get shot over it.

What concerns Foxman as an American Jew, though, is this: Israelis have begun to talk about the problem. “I don’t see any of that here.”

“Now,” Foxman said, “is the time to speak up.”

If anyone could rally American Jews to such a moral accounting, it’s Foxman. A Polish-born Holocaust survivor, head of the ADL since 1987, he is one of the few American Jewish community leaders whose name is known beyond inner leadership circles. The agency he runs is one of the Jewish community’s most trusted and best funded.

This isn’t the first time Foxman has tackled Jew vs. Jew hate speech. In September 1995, just weeks before Rabin’s assassination, Foxman publicly resigned from his Orthodox synagogue in New Jersey to protest the rabbi’s inflammatory anti-Rabin rhetoric. In May 1997, he presented an ADL “Courageous Jewish Leadership” award to Yeshiva University president Norman Lamm, to honor Lamm’s calls for Orthodox soul-searching in the weeks after Rabin’s murder.

The efforts never gathered momentum, though. It’s hard to imagine this latest one doing better. American Jewish leaders see their first duty as uniting the community, not dividing it. Organizing a broad Jewish front against overzealous Orthodox rabbis is way out of character.

Foxman doesn’t want to divide the community, of course. He’d like to see everyone join hands against hate rhetoric, starting with the rabbis who’ve been spewing it. “It is time for them to show they’ve learned from the past,” he said.

But the main offenders aren’t interested. Tendler, for example, says it’s “unfair and intellectually dishonest” to say that Orthodox rabbis’ rhetoric may have created an atmosphere that incited Yigal Amir to murder. In fact, he said in an interview, “I don’t believe anyone really believes that.”

It’s important to point out here that the vast majority of Orthodox Jews are not extremists or absolutists. Most value democracy. Most don’t share Tendler’s apocalyptic view of the peace process. Even Rabbi Soloveitchik, who consigned last week’s inflammatory statement, has reportedly backed away. A spokesman suggested that Soloveitchik, 82 and ailing, had been manipulated into signing something he hadn’t read.

It’s also important, however, to note that the extremists and absolutists aren’t being made to pay a price for their words and deeds. Abraham Hecht, the Brooklyn rabbi who lost his pulpit in 1995 after telling an interviewer that Rabin should be killed, retains his post as president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. The alliance is a small Orthodox group based in Brooklyn.

Foxman acknowledges that the absolutists among us aren’t about to turn around and embrace moderation. What he’s hoping for is greater boldness from everyone else, starting with other rabbis.

“We are a people who say, ‘Keep my tongue from speaking evil,’ in our daily prayers,” he said. “We believe in the power of words for life and death. If we didn’t believe in the power of words, we wouldn’t have prayer. Who more than our spiritual leadership ought to have that respect for words? They certainly need to speak out, because of the past.

“But then there are all those who have been silent. Those who looked for rationalizations why they don’t need to speak out. They must speak out now. We are in a crisis.”

J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal.