Some years ago, a Los Angeles pro-Israel activist, Rachel Neuwirth got into a scuffle with UCLA’s Hillel rabbi, Chaim Seidler-Feller. Originally, Seidler-Feller, who I’d known and worked closely with when I was a UCLA grad student, said that she’d called him a “capo,” which had angered him and led to a scuffle. A few years later, some time after a civil suit was filed, Seidler Feller published an apology in which he accepted blame for the altercation.
When I read about this, I was saddened. I didn’t believe the Chaim Seidler-Feller I knew and respected would provoke such an incident. I wrote in my blog that I believed his original version of events rather than the later one. I suspected that due to the expense and exhaustion resulting from a long legal battle he was forced, for whatever reason, to concede to her demands and settle the suit. In 2007, Neuwirth demanded that I retract my statement. As I’d done nothing more than expressed my opinion on the matter, I declined her demand. In the actual lawsuit she filed, she no longer mentioned the Seidler-Feller incident as her cause of action. Instead, she was claiming that my calling her a “Kahanist pig” in a blog post amounted to calling her a terrorist. She later brought suit against me in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Despite the fact that a judge granted an anti-SLAPP motion to have her suit dismissed, the California State Court of Appeal reinstated her suit. Then, the case was tried in Superior Court before a different judge, who ruled against her. Neuwirth appealed this ruling as well. This week, six years after beginning her suit, the same California State Court of Appeals ruled against her. Her case is finally done and she has lost.
She had included a claim of libel against Stanford Prof. Joel Beinin as well. This week’s ruling dismissed that case too. She could appeal to the State Supreme Court and there is a still a slim chance they may take her appeal.
I want to express my gratitude to my attorney, Dean Hansell, of the Los Angeles office of Hogan Lovells. He is an old friend who I turned to, though we hadn’t had contact in years. In my hour of need, Dean took the case pro bono, at considerable sacrifice to his firm, and stood up not only for me, but for free speech and the right for bloggers to express their views without fear. The lesson here is that doing pro bono legal work is an important public service. But no one prepares even the most generous lawyer for a six-year legal battle. It was an extraordinary expenditure of time and energy generously supported by his then-partners at LeBoeuf and now Hogan Lovells. Dean is active in city politics and has served on several mayoral commissions and is a leader of the LGBT community. You couldn’t find a more exemplary lawyer than him.
This is not the first time I’ve been threatened with a libel suit (though the first time one was actually brought), nor may it be the last. But I am thankful that the American justice system worked, though it took a very long time to do so.
I would also like to thank Prof. Gershon Shaffir of UC San Diego and Prof. Sarah Benor of Hebrew Union College-Los Angeles for serving as expert witnesses in my case. They testified about the political and linguistic contexts of terms referring to radical right-wing Jews like “Kahanism,” etc.