Fighting Back Against Lawfare

Human-rights attorney and activist Brooke Goldstein coming to speak at the Philadelphia Chapter of the Freedom Center.

FrontPage Interview’s guest today is Brooke Goldstein, a New York City-based human rights attorney, author and award-winning filmmaker. She serves as director of The Lawfare Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about and facilitating a response to the abuse of Western legal systems and human rights law. Her award-winning documentary film, The Making of a Martyr, uncovers the illegal, state-sponsored indoctrination and recruitment of Palestinian children for suicide-homicide attacks. To view the trailer, click here. Goldstein is the co-author, with Aaron Eitan Meyer, of the recently published Lawfare: The War Against Free Speech: A First Amendment Guide for Reporting in an Age of Islamist Lawfare.

Goldstein will be speaking at the Philadelphia Chapter of the David Horowitz Freedom Center at The Office of Duane Morris, LLP. 30 South 17th Street, 12th Floor, Philadelphia, PA  19103, on February 2nd from 5:00 to 6:30pm. To register for that event, click here.

FP: You run an organization that focuses on it and you’ve recently written a book about it, but for the benefit of the uninitiated reader, what is “lawfare” and what is it designed to accomplish?

BG: Lawfare is the use of the law as a weapon of war. More specifically, it is the manipulation of international human-rights law, the laws of armed conflict and legal terminology leading to their misapplication. Lawfare has basically three strategic goals. First, to frustrate and hinder the ability of democracies to fight terrorism. Second, to undermine the rights of sovereign nations, including the rights to defend their citizens against imminent threats and exert sovereign control over their territory. And third, to punish and silence free speech about real national-security threats such as militant Islam, Islamist terrorism and terror financing.

FP: How does lawfare help to stifle free speech about the threats we face? And how did you become engaged in this subject?

BG: I’m a Canadian by birth but I moved to this country because I wanted to practice law and have a tremendous respect for the American Constitution.  In the United States people enjoy more rights then ever recognized by a governing authority in the history of civilization. Yet there are many Americans who do not know what their rights are under the First Amendment and who don’t understand the implications of its guarantor of free speech. For instance, I get calls and emails from people who don’t know that blasphemy is not a crime in this country, or that free speech encompasses the right to speak and write truthfully about religion. I’ve gotten into discussions with bloggers who thought that hate speech was a crime in this country, which it’s not. American citizens have a right to speak freely and critically about their government and about religion.  That principle is the cornerstone of liberal democracy and what the founding fathers based the First Amendment on.

You don’t have to be a lawyer to understand these rights and people who did not receive a legal education still want to be active citizens. They want to write a blog or an article about, say, their local Muslim Brotherhood-connected chapter or about the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) or about the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). But they’re afraid  they’re going to be targeted with a lawsuit strategically designed to silence their speech.  And lawsuits, as we know, are expensive.

I co-wrote Lawfare to encourage journalists, bloggers, members of the media and American citizens at large to exercise their rights and speak freely about the most important issues of our time.  The goal of the book is to arm American citizens should they fall victim to such "libel lawfare."  To counter the "chilling effect" on free speech about militant Islam.  The book serves as a very accessible primer on the First Amendment and as an overview of U.S. libel law versus foreign libel law.  It provides case examples of  the brave men and women who have been targeted with malicious lawsuits for publishing works exposing the financiers of terrorism and even for parodying religion (like the Danish cartoons of Mohammad.) There is no place in a free society for such stifling of public dialogue, especially when the speech is related to national security issues. I was not prepared to stand by while groups like the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC)  lobby the U.N. and the U.S. for the resurgence of blasphemy laws.  I recommend the book to anyone who may be remotely in lawfare's harms way or who wants to maintain our precious standards of freedom.

FP: Let’s say I am an independent writer who wants to publish something about Islamic radicalism. What I should I do to protect myself from these lawsuits?

BG: Number one, get yourself media liability insurance. Everyone who publishes should have media liability insurance, regardless of the fact that what you may write about is true. The whole point of lawfare is to file a frivolous lawsuit, so that even if you win, in the end you still lose time and money spent defending your rights. Media insurance can cost you  around $1,500 a year, depending on your risk-liability, but it's super-important and an expense well-spent. Number two, always have a second pair of eyes, preferably an attorney, read over your article with the goal of spotting any potentially libelous statements. And always cache websites. Often people put up information that can be used against them on the web and when they realize that they take it down. If you rely on internet articles you need to cache the articles in case those pages are taken down. If you have any concerns, you should call us at The Lawfare Project. We operate as a non-profit and one of our activities is to hook people up with legal counsel if they need it. We also perform libel review, though we always recommend that people get an attorney to represent them, as we are not a law firm, nor do we take on clients. And finally, you should read our book. It provides really simple examples of people who have been sued in the past, how they won, and what you need to do to protect your rights.

FP: What is the state of free speech in this country as it concerns discussion of Islam and Islamism?

BG: I think this country affords the greatest free speech protections that have ever been afforded in organized civilization. But there have been a couple developments that are very troubling and that point to the stifling of healthy dialogue and debate. The first thing is the chilling effect created by the libel lawfare suits. We have witnessed situations where Yale University Press publishes a book called Cartoons That Shook the World about the Mohammed cartoons, and yet doesn’t publish the cartoons at issue. I think it’s a problem when Comedy Central allows the creators of South Park to defame every religion except for Islam. It’s a problem when you have Random House refusing to publish a fiction novel – The Jewell of Medina by author Sherry Jones – because it is afraid that publishing any fiction about Mohammed’s child bride Aisha will be denounced as “Islamophobic.”

The other major challenge to free speech comes from the Obama administration. The administration has co-sponsored UN Resolution 16/18, which follows a series of resolutions spearheaded by the OIC, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, aiming to outlaw the blasphemy of religion in international law. The OIC is 57-member voting block at the UN that has hijacked the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. That resolution is now being implemented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They are wiping out all references to Islam and Islamic terrorism in counterterrorism training manuals. They’ve created a blacklist of seasoned FBI officials, some of whom have been there for over ten years, who are no longer allowed to brief on Islamist terrorism the very men and women tasked with protecting us from Islamist terrorism. The Department of Defense's report on the Fort Hood shootings omitted the word Islam and made no mention of the killer, Nidal Malik Hasan's, well documented jihadist sympathies such as his speech on suicide bombing and an essay arguing for the painful punishment and liquidation of non-Muslims.  So now we are not just stifling public debate but  we’re stifling the ability of people in our national security apparatuses to protect us. It’s a serious problem.

That said, I’m much more worried about the status of free speech in Europe and in Canada. In the Netherlands they put Geert Wilders, a democratically elected official, on trial for hate speech against Muslims because he spoke to his constituents about the threat of Islamist terrorism. Just recently, an Austrian citizen, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff,  was  fined for the crime of blasphemy against Islam, in Austria! The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) has gone after the author Mark Steyn and the television personality Ezra Levant for writing a book on Muslim demographics and republishing cartoons of Mohammad, respectively. Even though neither of the CHRC's quasi-legal proceedings have been successful, they send a message that there are legal loopholes that can be taken advantage of by people who don’t want us to talk about Islam. And if we can’t talk about and understand Islamist terrorism, how can we defeat it?

FP: While the proponents of lawfare don’t want to talk about Islam and Islamic terrorism, they do want to talk about Israel. For instance, American college campuses now routinely host so-called BDS conferences that target “boycotts, divestment and sanctions” against Israel and that seek to demonize Israel as an “apartheid” state. You yourself will be speaking out in opposition to these movements at the David Horowitz Freedom Center in Philadelphia. What will you be talking about?

BG: First I want to express my thanks to the David Horowitz Center for inviting me and for giving people a platform to speak the truth on campuses. I’ll be talking about the true gender and sexual apartheid that is happening in the Islamist world  and about the massive human rights violations occurring against innocent Muslim women and children that are being ignored by the hypocritical BDS movement and by the human rights, political and legal community.

FP: What do you think these movements are trying to accomplish?

BG: What they’re trying to accomplish is to take legal terms like apartheid, genocide, terrorism – each of which have very specific meanings and applications (which can be looked up in a dictionary)– and misinterpret and misapply them to sow confusion in the general public. In that way, they want to make it harder for us to distinguish between the real human-rights violators and those who, like Israel, are working to protect the human rights of their citizens.  They want to blur the distinction between terrorists that target and hide behind civilians, and those that fight to protect civilians.  They want to reinvent the laws of armed conflict so as to deny democracies the rights to defend themselves and exert sovereign control over their territory.  In short, they want to compliment terrorism and asymetric warfare with flawed, politicized and quasi-legal arguments under the guise of "human rights" rhetoric.

If they were really interested in human rights, they would highlight the real perpetrators of injustice in the Middle East.  They would work to expose the real obstacle to peace: the illegal, state-sponsored indoctrination and recruitment of innocent Muslim children to hate and violence.

The only way for there to be peace in the Middle East, and peace in the world,  is if the Islamists stop teaching their children to aspire to violent jihad while killing themselves.  No peace agreements or handshakes or territory swaps or boycotts or books by former presidents on Apartheid are going to bring tranquility when millions of Muslim children are being taught  through their schools, textbooks, by their radio, television and print media, by their religious clerics and political leaders to commit violent homicide-suicide in the name of religion. By turning a blind eye to these crimes, the BDS and anti-Israel "Apartheid" movements  send the green light to terrorists that they can continue killing Muslim children with impunity, because they don't care. That, they say, is not their focus. They are too preoccupied with their own rewriting of human rights law and the laws of armed conflict, and how they can apply it to Israel to give legal patina to their claims.

FP: Many of these groups claim that schools should host their anti-Israel conferences and "Israel apartheid" events in the interest of academic freedom. What do you make of that argument?

BG: It doesn’t make any sense. That’s like saying, “Lets call the sky purple in the interest of academic freedom.” Just because you say academic freedom doesn’t mean you should say  something that is illogical and irrational. It puts a stain on academia when our professors are propagating notions that make no sense. As I said earlier, you can look up the term apartheid in the dictionary and its simple and clear that no apartheid is going on in Israel. Palestinians, Christians and Arabs enjoy equal rights, equal protection, they serve in the government, one could go on and on. Black Student organizations in this country recently ran a powerful ad in campus newspapers demanding that these groups stop referring to Israel as an apartheid state because it denigrates the actual history of apartheid in South Africa. Even President Jimmy Carter, who published a book referring to Israel as an “apartheid” state, has recanted that accusation.

FP: What do you think of the self-styled pro-Palestinian groups who stage these conferences?

BG: They call themselves pro-Palestinian but they’re really anti-Palestinian groups. That’s because they’re not focusing on who the real human-rights violators are against the Palestinian people. They're diverting attention away from the fact that the Palestinian Authority airs cartoons and music videos that teach children to kill themselves as suicide-homicide bombers.  They’re diverting attention from the fact that UNWRA, the United Nations Relief and Work Agency, is aiding and abetting the murder of Palestinian children by teaching from hate-filled textbooks and by hiring off the Hamas payroll. They’re diverting attention away from the fact that Hamas is engaged in the systematic murder of anyone they deem un-Islamic, that it violates women’s and children’s rights, and that it targets civilians, including Palestinians, for assassinations and executions. If you describe your movement as pro-Palestinian yet you use it to purposefully divert attention away from these obvious human-rights abuses, and  refuse to address them in  context, then you are exposing your movement for what it is, anti-human rights, and anti-Palestinian.

FP: You’ve noted that these assaults on Israel, whether they come from Palestinian campus groups or from international organizations like the UN or from terrorist groups like Hamas, have important implications for American security as well. How so?

BG: Any attack on the legitimacy of Israel's right to self defense, whether it be violent or non-violent, has shared implications for all other democracies. For example, when the International Court of Justice declares Israel’s border fence a “crime against humanity” while pointedly ignoring the fact that the fence contributed to a sharp decline in the loss of human lives, and refusing to hear testimony from the victims of terror, what kind of precedent is that going to set for the United States when it wants to build a border fence with Mexico? If Israeli officials are being charged with war crimes for fighting terrorists – the same terrorists our soldiers are fighting against in Iraq and Afghanistan and who use the same tactics – what are the legal implications for coalition forces? People are going after Israel because it’s the easy target. Its the legal testing ground for lawfare actions aimed at rewriting the laws of armed conflict to benefit terrorists.  They are setting precedents in national and international law so that they can be used against American and against coalition forces. It would be a shame to dismiss something like the Goldstone Report, which is a highly politicized and flawed legal document that attempts to take away the right of a nation to defend itself against its citizens, as only a threat to Israel. Those same legal principles can be used against any other nation fighting terrorism. That’s the point of lawfare and that's how legal precedents work.

FP: How can those who share your goals and your opposition to lawfare get involved with your work?

BG: We have a wonderful internship and student fellowship program. It gives students an opportunity to get out of the rubric of a law school's ruminations on what human-rights law is and should be, and to work on real-life case examples. We’re currently accepting applications for our summer internship program. We also have an academic fellowship program and a professional fellowship program, in which you can engage in research, writing and advocacy related to human rights law and counter-lawfare.  Those interested can contact me at [email protected]

And of course, given that we are a nonprofit, we survive from the generosity of our donors.

FP: Thank you, Brooke Goldstein, for joining FrontPage Interview.

BG: Thank you for having me and giving these issues exposure.