Richard Silverstein and Joel Beinin’s free speech victory

Anti-Arab (there’s no other way to put it) real estate agent/researcher and activist Rachel Neuwirth lost her case against liberal Tikun Olam blogger Richard Silverstein and Stanford Middle East history professor Joel Beinin. (Check out Richard’s newly revived Israel-Palestine Forum, where you can chime in on the debate.)
Seattle’s Jew-ish just filed this new story on the details of the case which has wide ranging implications for free speech on the internet.

Silverstein called Neuwirth “Kahanist Swine” on his blog because he believed at the time that she was associated with a fake blog created to mock him. She sued. Neuwirth won an earlier case against UCLA Hillel director Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, also mentioned in the Jew-ish article. (It should be said that while Muzzlewatch does not feel litigation was an appropriate response, neither do we think that calling anyone “Kahanist swine”, even self-proclaimed Kahanists, which Neuwirth is not, actually serves to create an atmosphere where dialogue can take place. In fact, we’d argue that the loose use of such invectives in the blogosphere make such debates almost impossible, intimidating regular mortals from speaking. Suing bloggers is not the solution. Modeling the online behavior you’d like to see in others is.)

Also named in the suit was Stanford University professor Joel Beinin, who alleged Neuwirth had left a death threat on his answering machine with a statement that said, in essence, that Hitler had killed the people who betrayed their own nation first.

Beinin filed a police report with the Stanford campus police and posted details to a left-wing e-mail listserve based at the University of Haifa. Silverstein reported the message on Tikun Olam and agreed that the message sounded like a death threat.

“When someone says Hitler came and killed the traitors first and implied you are one of those people, what are you supposed to think?” said Silverstein. “God forbid sometime some crazy person is going to make a threat like this and is going to follow through.”

Fonarow said any allegation that Neuwirth’s message was a death threat was a lie.

“She leaves him a message that in effect, said, in the same tone, you can’t be saying [anti-Israel statements] because the Jews have to be vigilant at all times,” Fonarow said. “Look what they did to David [sic] Pearl, and look what Hitler did, and he takes that as a death threat, which is preposterous.”

The separate incidents were joined in the same suit because Silverstein reported on Beinin’s posting, Fonarow said.

Believing Neuwirth was attempting to stifle protected speech, Silverstein filed an anti-SLAPP motion. This California statute, Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation, prevents misuse of the legal system to file lawsuits that might curb free speech in a public forum about an issue of public interest. The judge found Silverstein’s motion fit the criteria.

In fact, two anti-SLAPP suits were filed (and won) against Neuwirth. This does not prevent Neuwirth from appealing, although the attorneys involved believe the merits of her case are minimal.

Summing it up:

“I feel like this is a victory for free speech on the Internet, and it’s also a victory for people who want to have the widest possible debate about issues in the Israeli-Arab conflict as well, here in the American Jewish community,” Silverstein, a Seattle-based blogger and one of two defendants Neuwirth sued for libel, told JTNews.

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