Judge throws out Rosen lawsuit against AIPAC

A judge threw out a defamation suit against AIPAC by its former foreign policy boss, Steve Rosen.

Judge Erik Christian of the Washington D.C. Superior Court ruled Wednesday that a statement by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that Rosen was fired because his behavior “did not comport with standards that AIPAC expects of its employees” was not defamatory.

Instead, Christian said, the statement, made by AIPAC spokesman Patrick Dorton to the New York Times, “is the characterization of an employer that does not rest on any objectively verifiable facts.” He went on to say that the statement was “neither precise nor verifiable.”

Rosen filed the lawsuit against AIPAC and Dorton in April 2009 just before a federal court threw out classified information charges against him and Keith Weissman, an former AIPAC Iran analyst, for lack of evidence.

AIPAC fired Rosen and Weissman in March 2005. Evidence emerged since then that the federal government pressured the organization to fire the men as a means of isolating them, although AIPAC has steadfastly denied this.

AIPAC initially was supportive of Rosen and Weissman after the FBI investigation came to light in August 2004.

“The court’s decision, that the statements made by AIPAC and its spokesman were not defamatory, support AIPAC’s continued assertion that this lawsuit was frivolous and had no basis in fact,” Dorton said in a statement.

Rosen told the Washington Post he would likely appeal.

The Jewish Medium Is the Message

Rebecca Rosen didn’t realize she could contact the dead until 13 years ago, after she learned her father had attempted suicide.  She grew up in a tightly knit Conservative Jewish family in Omaha, Neb., where her mother is executive director of the Jewish Federation and Rebecca attended religious school and had her bat mitzvah.

But soon after the day she learned about her father’s suicide attempt, Rosen, then a sophomore at the University of Florida, also learned he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and her parents’
30-year marriage was crumbling under the stress. Rosen, too, began spiraling into depression. “I found a destructive habit to numb my pain,” said the self-described psychic medium, who will appear at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills on April 27. “I’d sleepwalk into the kitchen and stuff my mouth full. I would wake up in the dark, not knowing how long I’d been there or how much I’d eaten.”

Over some eight months, Rosen gained 40 pounds and spent her daytime hours in a sleep-deprived daze, starving herself to make up for the nighttime calories. When anti-depressants failed to curb her pain, she prayed for someone —  anyone — to help her.

The next day, while writing in her journal, she felt an intense tugging on her hand, and she began to write messages from a spirit who identified herself as her deceased grandmother, Babe, an observant Jew who had suffered from postpartum depression, undergone an ineffective form of shock therapy and eventually committed suicide.

“She said that she was my spirit guide and that she was here to help me learn what she had failed to learn in life,” Rosen said. “By helping me out of my own depression, Babe could neutralize the negative karma she had from taking her own life — a psychic ‘win-win.’ ”

Story continues after the jump.

Rosen — who recounts her journey in her new self-help book, “Spirited: Connect to the Guides All Around You” — acknowledges that all this sounds “woo-woo” and that she initially thought the automatic writing meant she was “going crazy.” But after two years of her grandmother’s help, she was free from depression and had met her husband-to-be, Brian Rosen. After they moved to Detroit, she felt ready to acknowledge her psychic gift and started to do readings for $25 each at the back of a coffee shop.

In 2001, she impressed the arts editor of the Detroit Jewish News, resulting in a 2001 cover story. “I received hundreds of telephone calls, which started my business,” she said.

Now 33, based in Denver and a wife and mother of two young boys, Rosen is among an elite group of celebrity mediums who have earned a share of national attention, including John Edward, best-known for his TV series “Crossing Over”; Allison DuBois, the real psychic behind CBS’ hit TV show “Medium”; and James Van Praagh, who inspired CBS’ long-running “The Ghost Whisperer” and who also wrote the introduction to “Spirited.” She has been featured on ABC’s “Nightline” and has read for thousands of clients, including stars such as Vanna White and Jennifer Aniston (no, Rosen won’t reveal whether
spirits predicted Brangelina). She has a three-year waiting list for her private readings, at $500 per hour; group readings cost around $60 a ticket and draw up to 900 participants.

Critics believe psychics get their information in part by reading a client’s body language and from other forms of nonverbal communication. Rosen notes that she does 80 percent of her readings over the telephone, and a number of Rosen’s clients have offered written testimony that she is uncannily accurate, praising her ability to contact loved ones who offer messages and advice. Rosen begins each reading with a silent prayer for protection, which in her case involves the first line of the Shema. “I don’t see dead people,” she explained. “Spirits don’t have bodies or voices, so it’s their energy impressing my mind and body with thoughts and feelings.”

Gail Zimmerman, the Detroit Jewish News arts editor, visited Rosen with one of her reporters in early 2001 in anticipation of a possible story on the psychic. Zimmerman wanted the writer to have the first reading, but Rosen instead turned to her. “She said someone named Richard was desperate to convey a message for my sister,” the editor recalled. Zimmerman’s brother-in-law, in fact, had died of a brain tumor several months earlier. “[Rebecca] said he wanted me to tell my sister that his pain was gone — and she pointed to her head.”

Richard’s widow, Karen Tessler, followed up with sessions with Rosen, which helped her process her grief.  She had been married to Richard for only 14 months; they had been high school friends who had met again at their 30th high school reunion and married in 1999. Four days after their wedding, Richard displayed symptoms and was soon diagnosed with cancer. “If it wasn’t for Rebecca, I don’t know if I could have gotten through this,” Tessler said. “I received precise messages during our readings that could only have come from Richard. I felt comforted because I knew that even though he was gone, he
was still with me and that there could be life on the other side.”

There is a strong afterlife tradition in traditional Judaism, but mediumship is another matter. “Talking to the dead is considered off limits, a form of shamanism,” said Rabbi Pinchas Giller, a kabbalah scholar and professor of Jewish thought at American Jewish University. For example, Leviticus 20:27 states, “If among the men or women there will be a medium or an oracle, they shall surely be put to death.” 

An exception is made for an exclusive few in Chasidic or Mizrahi traditions — men who are so holy that they have “one foot in this world and one in the next,” Giller said. “So they sometimes come across souls in the context of other activities, but they don’t go out of their way to commune with the dead. You don’t go to a tzadik [scholar or miracle worker] to ask if he can contact your departed mother.”
Rosen — straightforward and chicly attired — said she doesn’t seek out spirits; they come to her in the context of healing others, which she regards as a form of tikkun olam. Rosen’s brother, Baruch HaLevi, a rabbi at the Conservative congregation Shirat Hayam, outside Boston, is one of her staunchest supporters: “The Talmud as well as all the midrashic and mystical literature is full of examples of Jews who are crossing over and coming back,” he said.

Is it right for Rosen to charge grieving clients $500 per session?

“Is it ethical to charge if you’re a doctor or a therapist? This is no different … you’re paying for my time and energy, which are extremely limited. There is only one of me and thousands of people coming to see me,” she said.

Rosen added that she discourages clients from visiting more than once or twice a year. “I don’t want to disempower people to think they need something outside of themselves to find the truth,” she said.

“That was the inspiration for my book — that we all have our inner knowledge and intuition to rely on.”

“An Evening With Rebecca Rosen,” Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Writers Guild Theater. 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. $25-$79. (303) 366-2288. Jewish Journal readers can obtain discounted tickets to An Evening with Rebecca Rosen for $29.50 (regularly priced at $59.00). Click on the orange “begin order” box on the event page: brownpapertickets.com/event/100208.

Enter jewishjournal.com (all lower case) in the discount code box and click “show additional prices.”  A second “general” assignment will show itself at a ticket price of $29.50 and will be available until noon on Tuesday, April 27th. Tickets are $80 at the door and will not be discounted. There will be no refunds for this event.

Analysis: AIPAC decision a victory—with qualifiers

Baruch Weiss, the young lawyer who helped cripple the government’s case against two former AIPAC staffers, says the prosecution’s loss is a “great victory” for free speech and for Israel’s friends.

He’s not wrong, but—like any legal document—the government’s motion Friday to dismiss classified information charges against Steve Rosen, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s former foreign policy chief, and Keith Weissman, its former Iran analyst, begs for footnotes and qualifiers.

The decision upholds as a matter of law the right of lobbyists to relay information to allies like Israel. The drawn-out case, however, unquestionably wounded the pro-Israel community’s reputation as unassailable. It also defers a looming crisis for one of the fundamentals of reporting: the right of a reporter or lobbyist or anyone to listen to a source without running to tell the feds.

Rosen and Weissman had been awaiting trial ever since an FBI raid in August 2004 on AIPAC offices resulted in charges that they had obtained and relayed information relating to Iran’s threat against Israel. In the last three years, the government’s case suffered numerous setbacks in various pre-trial court rulings.

In a statement Friday, Dana Boente, the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said, “Given the diminished likelihood the government will prevail at trial under the additional intent requirements imposed by the court and the inevitable disclosure of classified information that would occur at any trial in this matter, we have asked the court to dismiss the indictment.”

Weiss, Weissman’s attorney, said Friday’s move by the government to drop the case represented a “great victory for the First Amendment and for the pro-Israel community.”

But Boente made it clear that while Rosen and Weissman are free, the government likes the tool it unearthed in an obscure section of the 1917 Espionage Act—the ability to charge civilians with dealing in classified information—and it’s going to keep it.

The 1917 statute criminalizes information that “could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.”

The problem for the government came in a pre-trial ruling in August 2006, when trial judge T.S. Ellis III interpreted that line to mean that prosecutors had to show that U.S. interests were harmed, and not just that Rosen and Weissman relayed secrets to a foreign power: Israel.

Relaying secrets to friends of the United States, Ellis suggested, was not in and of itself criminal. For a crime to be committed, he said, the accused must have sought both benefit to another nation as well as harm to the United States.

Boente said that ruling went too far. “The District Court potentially imposed an additional burden on the prosecution not mandated by statute,” he complained.

The core of the indictment against Weissman and Rosen was that, as part of an FBI sting operation, they were told – falsely, it turns out – that Iranian agents were plotting to kill Israelis and Americans in northern Iraq. They allegedly relayed the information to Israeli diplomats, media and colleagues.

“Relaying information to a friendly power” describes the essence of what AIPAC and a roster of other Jewish groups do—and what any number of ethnic lobbies do.

With his 2006 ruling, Ellis enshrined that as legal, so long as it doesn’t harm the United States.

That might prove a relief to the pro-Israel community, but also raises questions for AIPAC on the eve of its annual policy conference about why it is so quick to throw Rosen and Weissman to the prosecutorial wolves.

AIPAC fired the two seven months after the charges were announced, saying their practices didn’t comport with AIPAC’s standards, without ever elaborating what those were.

With the notable exceptions of Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, prominent organizations and communal leaders took years to weigh in—if they did at all.

How does such behavior square with AIPAC’s carefully cultivated reputation for standing tall and tough?

Allowing Ellis’ decision to stand also upholds the part of the statute that alarmed free speech advocates when Rosen and Weissman were first charged in 2005: The idea that anyone who even hears information that could harm the United States is liable to face 10 years behind bars if he or she doesn’t immediately call the authorities.

Boente’s statement Friday suggested that the government may rely on that statute in the future when it comes to prosecutions.

In movie parlance, that leaves a hole big enough for a sequel.