A group of American Jewish lawyers is preparing a civil lawsuit against Richard
Goldstone for libel, but when and where it will be filed has yet to be
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The proposed class action lawsuit was initiated by Likud MK
Danny Danon, as reported by The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. He discussed the
idea in conversation with American attorneys during a recent visit to the United
States. It would demand that Goldstone publicly apologize to the State of Israel
and pay a symbolic amount of damages for the accusations he made in his UN
Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict report.
Danon’s office issued a
statement saying that the suit is set to be filed in federal district court in
New York next week by attorney Steve Goldberg.
Goldberg, however, reached
on Thursday by the Post
, said that although he wants to work as quickly as
possible on the case, issues of proper venue as well as other questions have yet
to be determined.
Goldberg said that his goal, along with the other 11
lawyers working with him on the case, is to proceed quickly, but that the
Goldstone Report itself reflects what can go wrong when there is a “rush to
Characterizing the suit as “still in its early phases,”
Goldberg said he and his fellow attorneys were trying to determine the best
venue in which to file the suit, as well as whether Goldstone and other parties
named would be more likely to submit to one tribunal as opposed to another –
even though Goldberg believes Goldstone and other parties “should be willing to
defend their accusations” in any forum.
“Unlike Goldstone, I don’t
believe in making false accusations in a hurry, and think this has to be done
carefully,” Goldberg said. “We have to pick precisely the right jurisdictions. I
expect a host of technical defenses will be raised. Our goal is to do it
quickly, but I want to make sure everything is done exactly right.”
trial would be “very interesting,” Goldberg said, especially questioning
Goldstone and “get[ting] to the point where he has to answer questions about his
methodologies and conclusions, and the inconsistencies of the standards that
“The people who are responsible for propagating a falsehood
should be subject to cross-examination and have to answer for their
allegations,” Goldberg said. “The libel [of the Goldstone Report] was
promulgated worldwide, and Goldstone talked about his report in the US, so it’s
a place where there is damage. The question is where is this suit most likely to
avoid some of the technical jurisdictional defenses.”
Danon said he
planned to file a similar lawsuit in Israel that would go into effect if
Goldstone visited the Jewish state. Goldstone has said he will visit Israel in
July at the invitation of Interior Minister Eli Yishai.
organizations and officials, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, have
called on the United Nations to cancel the Goldstone Report in the wake of a
op-ed in which Goldstone retracted some positions.
Goldstone Report, Goldberg said, “has caused extraordinary damage and it is a
libel comparable to the blood libel.
This is a tort that is recognizable
in most civil courts in Western countries. And if you’re going to make
accusations that people committed war crimes, then you should be prepared to
defend those accusations.”
Prof. Guy Harpaz, an expert in international
law from the Hebrew University, called any attempt to sue Goldstone for libel in
the US both stupid and a long shot. Harpaz said that many countries, including
the US, grant extensive immunity to UN officials. Though this immunity was not
complete, Harpaz said, it would likely be sufficient to protect Goldstone from
Harpaz said a suit would likely do more harm than good for
Israel, serving only to strengthen its delegitimization.
personal campaign against a man of Goldstone’s stature will only increase
resistance to the Israeli cause. The inconsistent treatment of Goldstone – one
moment he is treated as a villain, the next he is lauded as a redeemer and the
next he’s being sued for libel – is not serious on a tactical level. On a legal
level we must remember that despite the report’s name, it is not his personal
report and it is doubtful he can be personally sued for the report’s content,”
He added that while generally speaking, libel could only be
committed against a person or an identifiable collective, in some jurisdictions
it is possible to sue over perceived libel to a country.
David Schoen is
a US attorney who has filed a currently pending suit against former president
Jimmy Carter alleging that Carter’s 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid
contains false information and was intended to deceive the public and promote an
anti- Israel agenda.
Schoen said that while no one has read any case
papers or memoranda of law at present, it would certainly be interesting to do
“It is impossible for anyone to evaluate the viability of such a case
with anything other than a knee-jerk reaction without seeing the complaint and
understanding the theory of the case,” he said. “It would be terrific if there
were a forum in which the substance and methodology of the Goldstone Report
could get a full and fair airing. It is clear that the UN and the Human Rights
Council that authorized it are incapable of providing such a forum.
an aside, I certainly think a lawsuit is a more appropriate response to
Goldstone’s ‘recantation’ than Eli Yishai’s invitation and fawning over
Goldstone,” Schoen added.
Washington attorney Evan Schultz, who has
written on Israeli affairs as well as the concept of group libel, said he found
it hard to take even the theoretical notion of such a suit seriously.
this were actually a serious suit, they wouldn’t be suing in New York – they’d
be suing in London, where there are much easier libel laws,” Schultz said. “They
don’t want to make a legal case here – they want to make a media case, to
When he heard about the suit, Schultz said, his reaction
was: “You want to sue a UN agency for libel? Really? But I suspect that that
won’t matter, because they’re not filing for legal reasons.”
agreed that there certainly would be high media value to a trial of this
“The point of this is to get to the truth and make it publicly
known,” he said. “To some extent, there would be some truth to the allegation
that this is for the sake of public awareness – but a suit and trial would be
done according to proper legal standards, with the opportunity to ask questions
and answer questions and get to the truth in front of fair finders of
“The idea now is to get the truth disseminated as quickly and as
widely as the lies were,” Goldberg said.