Last week, after five long years of my being dragged through the courts,
defamed, libeled and slandered, Israel’s Supreme Court issued a ruling in the
Michal Tal case that stated: “There is not and never was any basis whatsoever
for any claim of plagiarism or copyright infringement brought against Naomi
Ragen in the Jerusalem District Court.”
Far from a technical victory,
this ruling was an acknowledgement by Tal’s own children, one of whom is a
lawyer, who had attended the court sessions and listened to testimony
throughout, that this case was frivolous and baseless. For had they had the
slightest hope of winning, they stood to gain NIS 2.5 million. Instead
they withdrew at the first opportunity.
A SHORT recap of what happened
will explain why.
On Sunday, February 18, 2007, Tal’s lawyer, Gilad
Corinaldi, sent me a brutally worded letter via the Internet demanding that I
pay his client, “... in light of the copyright violation and the profits you
have made from [Tal’s book] which have illegally enriched you, a more than
appropriate sum of money… You have five days of grace from the receipt of this
letter to take the above actions. If you do not comply with these
demands, my client will take the following actions: ...apply to the courts for
injunctions against you and the three publishers who market and sell your books
to remove the books from the bookstores…; sue you for millions of shekels (the
sum has not yet been fixed); publicize your copyright violations on a special
Internet site and also issue a press release to all the media in Israel and
especially outside Israel in order to give your readers an opportunity to judge
for themselves the act of plagiarism you committed. Your fate is in your hands.
Your good name and the future of your works hang in the balance
[emphasis in the
“Am I being blackmailed?” I asked myself. “Who are
these people? What do they want from me?” I had never heard of either of them,
and I certainly had never read Tal’s book.
On Tuesday, February 20 at
10:40 p.m., Corinaldi called my cell phone and spoke to my husband, who told him
to expect a reply to his letter the next day from my lawyers. On
Wednesday, my lawyers faxed Corinaldi a reply which categorically stated that my
book was entirely my own creation, that I had never heard of either Tal or her
book and that I was not going to pay Tal anything because she didn’t deserve
The very next day, a Thursday, Corinaldi and Tal appeared in
the Jerusalem District Court and demanded an urgent ex-parte session on the
grounds that it was impossible to contact me and that I was about to flee to the
country. Tal claimed not to know my home phone number but didn’t tell the court
that her lawyer had called my cell phone. She gave no proof for her allegations.
Instead, she told the court that an unnamed “mutual friend” had, at her request,
given me a copy of her book years before. The coup de grace was a 50-page table
of “similarities” between her book and mine.
The court granted the
injunctions against my publisher and me, ordering that all copies of The Ghost
of Hannah Mendes
be removed from bookstores without my even being present to
Completely unaware of what had happened, I was awakened at
6:30 on a Friday morning by a phone call from a reporter wanting my reaction.
The story made frontpage news in all the weekend papers.
This was exactly
what the letter had promised would happen if I didn’t pay up.
learned that I was neither the first nor the only victim of Corinaldi’s tactic
of an urgent ex-parte session late Thursday afternoon followed by front page
coverage in the weekend press.
THOSE WHO have read my last novel, The
, will understand exactly what my family and I went though. I felt
raped, assaulted and bloodied. It was two weeks before I had my day in court.
The injunctions were lifted immediately with no objections from Tal; they had
apparently served their purpose.
How many hours of precious time did I
waste going through that 50-page book of ”similarities”? Tal claimed copyright
over the concept of a family tree. She claimed I had put a woman on the cover of
my book that looked like the woman on the cover of her book. She compared blue
eyes to brown eyes, pigtails to ponytails. And then there were the “quotes” that
had simply been invented, texts that were neither in her book nor in mine,
doctored “quotes” with words added or left out, to “prove” that I had copied
In fact, there was not a single instance of any similarity, just as
you might expect since I’d never laid eyes on her book. In her testimony two
years later, Tal blamed the doctored and falsified texts on typographical errors
made by her lawyers. As for the affidavits she had signed, Tal said that she
hadn’t understood the Hebrew, despite holding a master’s degree in Hebrew
literature from Tel Aviv University, and had blindly signed whatever papers her
lawyers had put before her.
I presented evidence that I had submitted The
Ghost of Hannah Mendes
, which took me seven years just to research, to my
publisher months before Tal self-published her novel in England. One of Tal’s
own witnesses (a literary agent) testified that she had read my book in
manuscript more than a year before Tal’s book was published. The mutual friend
testified she’d never given me a copy of Tal’s book.
I thought at that
point that someone would surely put a halt to these farcical
proceedings. Wasn’t it obvious this was all a sick, delusional joke? But
I was mistaken. We were just at the beginning. There then began a series of
endless delaying tactics that made me feel I might have to wait forever for my
name to be cleared. Even after the testimony was completed and the court ordered
Tal to submit her summation, she and her lawyer never met the deadline, instead
filing repeated frivolous motions to which my lawyers had to respond, at times
by filing appeals to the Supreme Court.
At one point Tal dismissed her
lawyer and asked for time to obtain a new lawyer through Legal Aid. My lawyers
told me they suspected that these were all delaying tactics because Tal wanted
at all costs to avoid the inevitable loss of her delusional case. Eventually, at
the end of 2010 (almost four years after my ordeal began), the first lawyer,
Corinaldi, returned, just before Tal died of the illness from which she had been
suffering since before filing her case.
The same court that had eagerly
issued the ex-parte motions decided to simply expunge the case as though it had
never happened, completely indifferent to my pain, years of humiliation and
enormous expenses. Worse, the court’s decision left the door open to the heirs
to re-file the suit or to demand a “substantial” sum of money to make the case
go away! After all I had been through, in the end I was forced to appeal this
decision to the Supreme Court.
I have finally received some measure of
belated justice, and I would like to believe that I will eventually get some
justice in the other cases against me as well.
I HAVE been through an
ordeal. But my faith in human and divine goodness and in the beauty of the
written word still remains, filling me with new hope and new life. Even if they
leave me penniless and without honor, I am grateful for those gifts with which I
was born to express myself. Whatever happens, I am comforted that my books will
continue to nourish the spirits of those that read them. Without
whitewashing the faults or problems that exist in the religious world, I am
hopeful that my books will convince those who hate religious people that they
are wrong and that the love of God for his people, Israel, is a pure love and
the Jewish religion at its most authentic is a beautiful faith to live by.