An Israeli soldier who launched a $6 million defamation action in America against a Palestinian Christian has seen her legal efforts backfire spectacularly. Although her lawyer urged the US judge to apply Israeli defamation law, which punishes criticism of the Zionist State by up to one year in prison, Rebecca Rumshiskaya lost her case.
Californian Judge Craig Griffin rejected and dismissed the lawsuit as well as the attempt to apply Israeli laws in his Orange County Superior Court. In his ruling, the judge also granted Palestinian Suhair Nafal's anti-SLAPP motion and said that Rumshiskaya must pay the defendant's legal costs. The anti-SLAPP laws are designed to deter people from using the US courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate people who are exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech. A "strategic lawsuit against public participation" (SLAPP) is one intended to deter freedom of speech, and which the plaintiff usually doesn't really expect to win.
The outcome of this particular lawsuit is a major blow to Israel's ongoing efforts around the world to silence the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, especially on social networks. It is also a major victory for Nafal and her supporters. She insisted, however, that this was a victory for all pro-Palestinian activists, both on social media and on the ground. "We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are tireless and will not give up until we see justice served."
Californian Rumshiskaya, 26, went to live in Israel in 2012 and enlisted in the Israel Defence Forces as an instructor in the Education and Youth Corps. She sought advice from "lawfare" specialists Shurat HaDin two years after a photograph of her fully armed and in uniform was posted by BDS activist Nafal on her Facebook page in 2018. The Palestinian had downloaded the image of the IDF poster girl from the military's own official Facebook page.
Nafal's post was about heroic 21-year-old Palestinian paramedic Razan Al-Najjar, who was killed by an Israeli sniper while she was on duty as a volunteer helping the wounded during the peaceful Great March of Return demonstrations that took place near the nominal Gaza Strip border in 2018. To draw a comparison between the two women, Nafal uploaded Rumshiskaya's promotional photograph next to that of the young paramedic. There was absolutely no suggestion that this particular Israeli soldier was involved in the killing of Al-Najjar. She had left the IDF three years earlier. However, some pro-Israel supporters tried to twist the narrative and say that Nafal's post claimed that Rumshiskaya was responsible for the medic's death.
Nafal contacted the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) for assistance in the case and she was represented by Attorney Haytham Faraj, an ADC national board member. According to Faraj, the primary work of the firm representing the Israeli soldier in the lawsuit was to focus on silencing and threatening BDS activists, critics of Israeli human rights violations, and violations of international humanitarian law.
In the statement of the claim presented by Shurat HaDin to the California court last year, Rumshiskaya's lawyers said that the "accusation" was clearly false since she'd never served in the Gaza Strip during her military service. They added that their client worked for human rights and took part in joint delegations of Israelis and Arabs in Jordan and the occupied West Bank.
In a dramatic statement that bordered on hysteria, Israeli lawyer Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said in the statement: "It seems like we're going back to [infamous forgery] The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and to the anti-Semitic blood libels that belong to the past. Rebecca and her family have received death threats, only because she decided to join the IDF."
Darshan-Leitner, the founder of Shurat HaDin Israeli Law Centre, added: "The war on anti-Semitism has expanded to the legal sphere as well, and Rebecca's lawsuit is the spearhead of our struggle against the global boycott movement against Israel. This is a message to all BDS activists, who should know that they too may be held responsible for their anti-Zionist activity and may even need to pay a heavy price."
In some ways the Shurat HaDin lawyer was right. This legal case has certainly sent out a strong message to BDS supporters, which is that they should carry on with their vital and entirely peaceful efforts to bring Israel to account for its human rights abuses.
US lawyer Faraj said that the ruling by Judge Griffin preserved the First Amendment rights of Arab American and Palestinian communities to free speech, including political speech. Pointing out that, "America is not Israel," he added: "The former Israeli soldier who sued Ms Nafal sought to have the court apply Israeli law, which punishes criticism of Israel by up to one year in prison. The judge rejected the lawsuit and the attempt to apply Israeli law."
The attorney said that by granting Nafal the Anti-SLAPP motion, the judge sent a clear message that the US tolerates and values the diversity of opinions and political views, and those who seek to improperly silence political criticism will have a price to pay.
One can only hope the case in California will have an impact here in Britain, where Zionists are leading a witch hunt to try to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. The pro-Israel lobby uses the discredited "definition" of anti-Semitism drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) to try to block any and all discussion of the state of Israel and its contempt for international laws and conventions. Some of the examples of "anti-Semitism" cited in the IHRA document — which even the person who drafted it has said is a "working definition" — relate to criticism of Israel. Academics have criticised the definition, which has been described as "not fit for purpose".
BDS is facing a lot of challenges from Israel's allies who allow it to act with impunity. Ironically, some of those allies are real anti-Semites who are left free to do their racist worst in this world every time that the pro-Israel lobby weaponises anti-Semitism against the people of Palestine and their supporters in the struggle for peace and justice. Some people just never learn.
Suhair Nafal said: "This victory was not just a victory for me, it was a victory for all pro-Palestinian activists, both on social media and on the ground," she added. "We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are tireless and will not give up until we see justice served."
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.