Yale University Press on Wednesday announced that a libel suit against it and one of its authors has been dropped, without any changes being made in the book or any payments to the plaintiffs. The book in question is about Hamas and comes just weeks after Cambridge University Press settled a libel case against it over a book about Islamic terrorism by promising to destroy remaining copies of the book.
The cases are notably different in that Cambridge was sued in Britain (where libel protections for authors and publishers are much weaker than those in the United States) and Yale was able to file motions in California courts, which have stronger libel protections for authors and publishers than much of the United States. But the fact that Yale took a strong legal stance on a book about Hamas is likely to cheer scholars of terrorism, some of whom have been deeply concerned that the Cambridge settlement would prompt other presses to back down if sued.
The book over which Yale was sued is Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad, by Matthew Levitt, who is director of the Stein Program on Terrorism, Intelligence and Policy at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. While some observers have distinguished between Hamasâ€™s terrorist activities and the groupâ€™s social service activities with Palestinians, Levittâ€™s argument is that they are in fact intertwined. Yaleâ€™s description of the book says: â€œLevitt demolishes the notion that Hamasâ€™ military, political, and social wings are distinct from one another and catalogues the alarming extent to which the organizationâ€™s political and social welfare leaders support terror. He exposes Hamas as a unitary organization committed to a militant Islamist ideology, urges the international community to take heed, and offers well-considered ideas for countering the significant threat Hamas poses.â€
The libel suit was filed in California in April by KinderUSA, a nonprofit group that says it raises money for Palestinian children and families, and Laila Al-Marayati, the chair of the groupâ€™s board. They sued over two passages and related footnotes in the book about charitable groups in the United States that the author believes are linked to terrorist groups. The U.S. government has investigated some Muslim charities in the United States for such links, but also said that such probes do not suggest that all Muslim charities have such links. The lawsuit specifically objected to this passage: â€œThe formation of KinderUSA highlights an increasingly common trend: banned charities continuing to operate by incorporating under new names in response to designation as terrorist entities or in an effort to evade attention. This trend is also seen with groups raising money for al-Qaeda.â€
According to the suit, suggesting that KinderUSA â€œfunds terrorist or illegal organizationsâ€ was â€œfalse and damagingâ€ and libelous. The suit also alleged that Yale â€œdid not conduct any fact-checkingâ€ for the book. KinderUSA asked the court for an injunction on its request that distribution of the book be halted, and also sought $500,000 in damages.
Since the suit was filed, Yale has indicated that it and its author stood behind the book. (Levitt was out of town Wednesday and could not be reached.) But in July, Yale raised the stakes by filing what is known as an â€œanti-SLAPP suitâ€ motion, seeking to quash the libel suit and to receive legal fees. SLAPP is an acronym for â€œstrategic lawsuit against public participation,â€ a category of lawsuit viewed as an attempt not to win in court, but to harass a nonprofit group or publication that is raising issues of public concern. The fear of those sued is that groups with more money can tie them up in court in ways that would discourage them from exercising their rights to free speech. Anti-SLAPP statutes, such as the one in California with which Yale responded, are a tool created in some states to counter such suits.
In Yaleâ€™s response, it noted that KinderUSA has been reported to be the subject of investigation by federal authorities, that these investigations have received detailed press coverage (prior to the book), and that the views of the book were legitimate and contained no errors of fact that meet the test for libel. Yale noted that the book was subject to peer review and copy editing and that the author verified that he had fact-checked the book. A Yale editor certified that he had no knowledge that anything in the book was incorrect. Yaleâ€™s brief called the suit a â€œclassic, meritless challenge to free expression,â€ and sought the suitâ€™s dismissal and legal fees. While Yaleâ€™s motion was not heard in court, the suit was withdrawn shortly after it was filed. …
Todd Gallinger, a lawyer for KinderUSA, confirmed that the suit had been withdrawn. He said that his clients decided to do so not because of â€œanything we perceive in weaknesses in the actual case,â€ but out of a desire to focus the groupâ€™s â€œlimited resourcesâ€ on its mission of helping â€œPalestinian children in need.â€ Asked if Yaleâ€™s anti-SLAPP motion influenced the decision, Gallinger said that â€œYale came at us hard.â€
18 Aug 2007