The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) libeled Sheldon Adelson, megabillionaire casino magnate and conservative pro-Israel philanthropist by accusing him of involvement in prostitution at his hotels. It was a false claim, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which also spread the lie, backed down quickly when Adelson threatened a lawsuit. Not the NJDC.
In a disgraceful announcement from the organization's Marc R. Stanley and David A. Harris, they write:
Today, both of us -- and the National Jewish Democratic Council -- were sued by Sheldon Adelson for a total of $60 million for exercising our free speech rights, and engaging in political speech.
We will not be bullied into submission, and we will not be silenced by power. This is not Putin's Russia, and in America, political speech regarding one of the most well-known public figures in our country is a fundamental right. One would think the person making greatest use of the Citizens United ruling would understand this. To be sure, referencing mainstream press accounts examining the conduct of a public figure and his business ventures -- as we did -- is wholly appropriate. Indeed, it is both an American and a Jewish obligation to ask hard questions of powerful individuals like Mr. Adelson, just as it is incumbent upon us to praise his wonderful philanthropic endeavors.
We know that we were well within our rights, and we will defend ourselves against this SLAPP suit (strategic lawsuit against public participation) as far and as long as necessary. We simply will not be bullied, and we will not be silenced.
I was not aware that lawsuits were the problem with Putin's Russia. Posing a free speech martyr when sued for falsely accusing someone of being a pimp shows a lot of chutzpah. And invoking a Jewish responsibility is sacrilege. Jonathan Tobin of Commentary explains that:
"Far from it being a specifically Jewish obligation to raise such issues, there is actually a specific religious prohibition against this sort of libel. Indeed, if there is anything that defines the concept of lashon hara or "evil tongue" - the provision in Jewish religious law against defamatory speech - it is calling a political opponent a pimp."
Tobin predicts the NJDC is in for tough sledding:
the problem with the NJDC posing as a martyr being harassed by the deep-pocketed conservative is that their behavior has been indefensible. Disagree with Adelson's stands on the issues and his taste in candidates if you like, but calling someone a pimp without a shred of proof is not the stuff of First Amendment poster children. Proving libel is difficult, but on the face of it, the NJDC is going to be hard-pressed to prove its mudslinging wasn't knowingly false as well as malicious. [...]
They are right that political speech is protected, a point that the group - like other opponents of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling - often forgets. But there is a not so fine line between criticizing a public figure and spreading allegations that he is involved in prostitution. There was plenty of room for them to take shots at Adelson without using a palpably false smear. Even billionaires have a right to protect themselves against that sort of libel, and it will now be up to the NJDC to wise up and make an apology or face some serious economic consequences.
The DCCC was wise to settle because it is the custodian of campaign funds for electing Democrats to Congress, and has a lot to lose in a judgment. the NJDC, in contrast, is a much smaller operation, and may even be able to fundraise using its defense against the number one Jewish boogeyman of the Democrats. (That's right: The Democrats have a Jewish boogeyman.) And fellow Jews will be hit up for money to fight him.
My friend Ed Lasky points out, "it is an age-old anti-Semitic trope that Jews use money to control governments and that claiming a Jewish casino Mogul who is behind prostitution is doing so is just promoting anti-semitism on multiple levels."
That raises this situation to a shanda (Yiddish for scandalous).