US Author’s Fight Against Libel Jihad
By Watching the Media
Friday, February 8th, 2008 @ 6:24AM
AMERICAN MEDIA STRANGELY QUIET OVER A GROUND-BREAKING DEFAMATION CASE FEATURING A SAUDI BILLIONAIRE VS A NEW YORK ACADEMIC AND AUTHOR
Media interest in the ground-breaking defamation case of Ehrenfeld v Mahfouz that’s been playing out in American courts has been minimal to say the least, but interest is slowly increasing, particularly now that Middle Eastern interest are beginning to buy America. Several weeks ago the New York State Court of Appeals began hearing arguments in a defamation case with far-reaching implications, especially for freedom of the press and publishing. Essentially the decision of the Court of Appeals will affect whether foreign defamation judgments rendered against US citizens may be enforced in the US if the judgments are at odds with the US constitution and American public policy.
The case revolves around the differences in libel or defamation legislation in the UK and the US. It is easier to gain an advantageous libel ruling in the UK and, according to Elizabeth Samson of the Jewish Week in the US this inequality has resulted in an onslaught of defamation litigation brought in courts in England. She describes England as “a country infamous for its libel tourism and notoriously known as the libel capital of the Western world. The personally aggrieved of the globe bring their cases to England to sue foreigners, including many Americans, and win. Consequently, the libel tourist easily silences his critics and suppresses the free flow of ideas.”
One of the most frequent tourists litigants on the UK libel circuit is Saudi Arabia’s Sheikh Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz, a former president and ceo of the National Commerce Bank of Saudi Arabia. He has sued or threatened to sue in the UK approximately 36 writers and publishers for libel – and of course can afford it. But the sheikh has now taken on Rachel Ehrenfeld, a dual Israeli and American citizen and the author of the book, Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed – and How to Stop It.’ Mahfouz sued Ehrenfeld for libel in the UK over allegations in “the book, but Ehrenfeld, whose book was neither published nor distributed in the UK, refused to participate in the trial.
The British court judged against her, awarding Mahfouz US $225,900 in damages and expenses and ordering her to publicly apologise and destroy her book. Ehrenfeld then took brought her case before an American court seeking a declaration that Mahfouz could not prevail on a libel claim against Ehrenfeld under the laws of New York and the US, and arguing that the judgment in the English case is not enforceable in the US.
She has guided her case through the court system, and now it is about to be determined in New York State Court of Appeals. Elizabeth Samson sums up the situation writing, “The consequence of such litigation now threatens to cast a permanent grey cloud over the US, and our proud history of investigative journalism, as well as future undertakings. If the Court of Appeals rejects Ehrenfeld’s claim, the loss will set a very dangerous precedent. It will send the message to writers that the constitution cannot safeguard against a foreign judgment that is deeply at odds with the traditional American values that guarantee the right of free expression.” The saga is now taking on a conspiratorial air with the Saudis deemed to be carrying out “financial jihad” against the US. But American mainstream media has shied away from giving much publicity to Dr Rachel Ehrenfeld’s stand.
Ehrenfeld, who is a director of the American Center for Democracy, was asked by Frontpage Interview, “Why do you think your case has not reached the mainstream media?” Ehrenfeld replied, “There is no logical explanation. Except that maybe they are afraid of offending the Saudis, in which case, it would further evidence my point… “Apparently, Saudi influence on the media, politics and business interests is so pervasive that only the most courageous and honourable professionals, colleagues and friends have stood by me. Others keep a silent distance, and some even try to harm me.” Ehrenfeld finished the interview by saying, “One of the most important foundations of American Democracy is freedom of the press. Bin Mahfouz’s libel suits are an important part of an enormous campaign to severely curtail press and media willingness and ability to freely investigate and report the great financial powers diligently working to destroy our nation and indeed the entire Western civilisation.”