Battling The Saudis
By Shalom Toronto | by Jonathan Dahoah Halevi
Thursday, January 11th, 2007 @ 7:54PM
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, a terrorism expert, and director of the New York-based American Center for Democracy (www.acdemocracy.org) is suing Saudi billionaire Sheik Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz, the former banker of the Saudi royal family who has been alleged to fund terrorist organizations such as HAMAS and al-Qaeda, for which he is also being sued, by the 9/11 victims. Ehrenfeld is suing Mahfouz in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to protect her First Amendment right after he sued her for libel in the UK in an attempt to silence her from reporting about his alleged activities and reported links to Islamist terrorists.
Dr. Ehrenfeld is a U.S. citizen, who was born and raised in Tel-Aviv. She pioneered investigation into the financial roots of terrorism, first in her 1990 book “Narcoterrorism,” followed by “Evil Money,” and most recently, in “Funding Evil — How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It.” She argues that dollars from Arab states and financiers, especially Saudis, as well as from drug traffickers, fund terrorism. In “Funding Evil,” Ehrenfeld, based on official documents, reported that Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz, former owner of the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, through his “Muwafaq Foundation” run by Yassin al-Qadi, a US designated terrorist, financed Hamas, al-Qaeda, and other Islamic terror organizations.
Bin Mahfouz would have little chance to silence her had he brought a libel action against her in the U.S. No other nation goes as far to protect speech. Indeed, outside the United States, truth is often not a defense to allegations of defamation. The U.S. standard is not accepted in Britain, Canada, Australia, or any of the 41 member states of the Council of Europe. Bin Mahfouz and fellow Arabs, known as “libel tourists”, have made the English libel bar rich, leading the London Times to declare the United Kingdom the “libel capital of the Western world.” English lawyers now refer to the “Arab effect” to describe the surge of English libel actions by wealthy, non-resident Arabs accused of funding terrorism. This trend has produced a succession of rulings, settlements, and damage awards against English and American media defendants costing millions of Pounds.
Bin Mahfouz has sued or threatened suit in England 33 times against those who linked him to terrorism. He runs a website boasting of his victories. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post all have settled with him. Dr. Ehrenfeld, however, did not acknowledge the English court. Bin Mahfouz won by default, and the court enjoined publication of “Funding Evil” in Britain, and ordered the book to be destroyed. Bin Mahfouz was awarded 60,000 Pounds and his huge legal expenses, even though the merits of his allegations were never tried.
Rather than confront bin Mahfouz on England’s libel-friendly turf, Ehrenfeld sued him in a New York federal court seeking a declaration that his English judgment is unenforceable in the United States as repugnant to the First Amendment. Writers are now subject to intimidation by libel tourists. Little wonder that the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Association of American Publishers, and 14 other media groups have filed a “friend of the court” brief to support Ehrenfeld’s quest to raise her First Amendment defense now. Until she is able to do so, she will have problems finding American publishers willing to risk publishing her research and writing. Dr. Ehrenfeld’s lawsuit is important because she is fighting for the freedom to expose the funding of terrorism.
Saudi influence James Woolsey, the former Director of the CIA, who wrote the foreword to “Funding Evil,” said: “Justice Brandeis once wrote that ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant’. That principle is being undermined today, even in our own country, by British libel law rulings that are increasingly tendentious and protective of wealthy plaintiffs from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf who badly need some sunlight focused on their activities. Rachel Ehrenfeld is fighting a lonely and vital battle to limit the chilling effect of these British rulings and keep them from being given effect here. She deserves all of our help.”