A Superior Court judge in Santa Monica has dismissed a defamation suit, which threw into sharp relief the emotional tension between hawkish and dovish supporters of Israel.
Judge John Reed ruled Nov. 27 against plaintiff Rachel Neuwirth, a right-wing commentator on Israeli issues, and in favor of Stanford University history professor Joel Beinin and Seattle blogger Richard Silverstein, who had described Neuwirth as a "Kahanist swine" on his blog.
Both defendants are on the opposite political pole to the plaintiff.
Neuwirth may be best known for being at the center of a widely publicized case four years ago, when she was kicked and scratched by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, the UCLA Hillel director, following a heated political exchange.
In that case, Neuwirth sued, resulting in Seidler-Feller being ordered to take an anger management course. Early this year he sent a full apology to Neuwirth, taking full responsibility for the incident.
In the current case, according to Neuwirth's attorney Charles L. Fonarow, Silverstein not only called his client a "Kahanist swine" (referring to a supporter of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane), but also the "hell's angel of the pro-Israel crowd" and "Jewish trash," who "spews hate" and is engaged in "cyber bullying."
The charge against Beinin rested on Neuwirth's claim that the Stanford professor had falsely accused her of leaving a death threat on his answering machine, which is a crime in California.
The case was filed five months ago and, according to interviews with three involved attorneys, Dean Hansell of Dewey & LeBoeuf for Silverstein, Steven Freeburg for Beinin, and Fonarow for Neuwirth, the judge considered one key legal issue: whether Neuwirth was a public figure and whether the name-calling occurred in a public forum, in which case it fell under First Amendment protection of free speech.
Although Neuwirth argued that she was a private real estate broker, Reid ruled that her journalistic articles made her a public figure, and that Silverstein's blog, which runs thousands of outside comments a year, constituted a public forum.
Neuwirth will have to pay the considerable attorneys' fees for Freeburg and Hansell. The latter defended Silverstein pro bono, or free of charge, because, he said, "Being Jewish myself, I felt this was the right thing to do and in the best Jewish tradition."
Fonarow denounced the court's decision and charged that the judge ignored evidence that Silverstein and Beinin had been "motivated by actual malice."
The attorney promised to appeal the ruling to a State Court of Appeal within 60 days and, if necessary, "take it to the Supreme Court."
--Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Dershowitz at UCI, Post-Annapolis: Peace Within Reach
On a campus that has seen its share of anti-Israel activity, on Nov. 29, on the heels of the Annapolis summit, Alan Dershowitz made the case for Middle East peace to a crowd of more than 1,000 students and community members who packed the UC Irvine Student Center.
The Harvard Law School professor and best-selling author of "The Case for Israel" and "The Case for Peace" was cautiously optimistic that peace might be within reach, even with Hamas in control of Gaza.
"I'm hopeful that for the first time, the Palestinian leadership finally wants an Arab state more than they want the destruction of the Jewish state," an obstacle that has repeatedly prevented Palestinians from gaining independence, he said.
In defending the case for a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, Dershowitz attempted to mollify anti-Israel extremists in the audience who oppose a Jewish state.
"If [students] are anti-Israel, in the end they're anti-Palestinian, because there will never be a Palestinian state without Israel," he said.
StandWithUs arranged Dershowitz's visit to Southern California last week, and his appearance on the Orange County campus was sponsored by the Hillel Foundation of Orange County, Anteaters for Israel and other Jewish student and communal groups and made possible through a grant from the Jewish Federation Orange County.
Organizers intended Dershowitz's appearance as a direct response to former President Jimmy Carter's May speech at UCI, in which he discussed his book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." Dershowitz has been a vocal critic of the book, which decries Israel's alleged colonization of Palestinian territories as the primary obstacle to peace.
The event was also meant to counter inflammatory anti-Israel rhetoric that has polarized Muslims and Jews at UCI. The campus has played host to several anti-Israel speakers including Oakland-based Muslim cleric Amir Abdel Malik Ali and Ayatollah Khomeini admirer Muhammad al-Asi.
"One of the things that's important to us is presenting a balanced approach," Hillel Foundation of Orange County Executive Director Jeffrey T. Rips said. "We wanted to show a different side to students."
Members of the Muslim Student Association attended the event. Although the audience adhered to event organizers' requests to maintain decorum, anti-Israel hostility brewed during the Q-and-A session. One student, wearing a black T-shirt with Arabic writing, referred to a statement supportive of torture that has been falsely attributed to Dershowitz in an obvious attempt to discomfit the speaker. Another challenged him to debate Holocaust denier and Israel detractor Norman Finkelstein.
Jewish students in attendance were relieved that tempers didn't flare as they have in the past.
"I was expecting things to be harsher," said Isaac Yerushalmi, a junior from Santa Monica and president of Anteaters for Israel. "I'm happy to see that everything is very civil. Our events aren't always that way. I think it was very successful."
Dershowitz urged moderate Jewish and Muslim students to engage in dialogue and marginalize extremists in order to reduce tension on campus.
"Most Jewish student leaders agree with Dershowitz, and we're hoping to find those Muslim or Palestinians who want a two-state solution and want to work with us," said Hillel Jewish Student Union Co-President Michelle Eshaghian. "Hopefully, his comments will bring them out."
-- Lisa Armony, Contributing Writer
Pearl Family Menorah at White House
Judea and Ruth Pearl, the parents of slain journalist Daniel Pearl, will light the family menorah at the White House Chanukah reception on Dec. 10, at the invitation of President and Mrs. Bush.The history of the menorah links it directly to the 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by Islamic extremists in Pakistan.
Just before his decapitation, Pearl told his captors, on video, "My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, and I am Jewish."
He then added that there was a street in Israel, in Bnai Brak, that was named after his great-grandfather, Chayim Pearl.
Judea Pearl, a computer science professor at UCLA, told The Journal that Chayim Pearl brought the menorah from Poland in 1924, when he moved to Palestine to found Bnai Brak, a strictly Orthodox community northeast of Tel Aviv.
The menorah was passed on through the generations to Judea Pearl, and will now take its place of honor at the White House.
Jewish Free Loan Announces Inaugural Honorees
The Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) announced last week that it will honor four Los Angeles philanthropists at its inaugural awards dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel.
On June 4, JFLA will honor Saul Brandman, a local real estate developer who recently helped JFLA start the Brandman Foundation Loan Fund for Nursing Students, with the Mitchell Family Foundation Philanthropy Award; Ruth Ziegler, whose family foundation offers a loan for families of children with autism and other special needs, with the Nathan Shapell Memorial Lifetime Commitment Award; Molly Forrest, CEO of the Jewish Home for the Aging, with the Ben & Anne Werber Communal Service Award; and Stephen Elkind, whose fashion company Lily McNeal benefited from a JFLA small business loan, with the Salter Family Foundation Client Recognition Award.
"This event is a new venture for JFLA, and we hope it will provide a unique opportunity to acknowledge generous philanthropists and community professionals who have made a significant impact on the Jewish community, as well as the general community," CEO Mark Meltzer said.
The 104-year-old nonprofit offers interest-free loans for education, emergencies, small business development, health care and life cycle events.
For more information about "JFLA Celebrates ... An Evening of Visionaries," call (323) 761-8830, ext. 104.
-- Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer