16 Feb Another Dangerous Lawsuit — This One Involving a Former U.S. President
According to the Jerusalem Post, five purchasers of Jimmy Carter’s new book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid have filed a $5 million lawsuit in federal court in New York against Carter and Simon & Schuster, the book’s publisher. The lawsuit alleges that the book violates New York consumer-protection laws by claiming to be a work of non-fiction (my emphasis):
The five plaintiffs in the suit, readers of the book, want their lawsuit, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages, to be deemed a class action, meaning that the plaintiffs would be seen to represent a much larger group – that is, everyone who purchased Carter’s $27 book.
The plaintiffs are Americans, with two of the five holding dual American-Israeli citizenship.
The suit alleges that the five plaintiffs in the suit who purchased Carter’s book, as well as others, assumed they were buying an accurate record of historic events relating to Israel and the Palestinians.
By claiming to be a Middle East expert, the suit claims, Carter and, by extension, his publisher, intentionally presented inaccurate information that was highly critical of Israel and therefore violated a New York law that makes it illegal to “engage in deceptive acts in the course of conducting business.”
According to a press release sent out by plaintiffs’ attorneys David Schoen and Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the suit is “the first time a former President and a publishing house have been sued for violating consumer protection laws by knowingly publishing inaccurate information while promoting a book as factual.”
The complaint notes that former Carter aides and colleagues contacted Simon & Schuster with concerns about inaccuracies in the book, but that the allegations were not investigated further.
Schoen, in an e-mail to The Jerusalem Post, noted that there is precedent in New York for a class-action suit against writer and publisher “for falsely marketing as true and accurate a book that is neither.”
Similar suits, Schoen said, have been filed in New York against James Frey, the much reviled author of the notentirely- accurate memoir A Million Little Pieces. Those suits ended in settlements.
“Ours is a much more serious subject I believe, because the book intentionally misleads and misrepresents about actual historic events and much of the public debate going on today about Israel is based on what people believe actually has transpired in past discussions, etc.,” Schoen wrote in his e-mail.
This lawsuit is no less dangerous than the criminal-libel lawsuit against Joseph Weiler. I am personally uncomfortable with branding Israel an apartheid state, no matter how much I disagree with its treatment of Palestinians. But it is quite simply absurd to claim that Carter’s book ceases to be non-fiction simply because it makes a claim that Israel’s right-wing defenders consider to be untrue. Perhaps Carter is overstating the comparison; perhaps he is even grossly overstating it. That does not make his book fiction. After all, Carter is a fomer President of the United States, with literally decades of experience in the Middle East. And, needless to say, the plaintiffs and lawyers in the lawsuit have offered no evidence whatsoever that Carter intentionally published false information, if in fact some of his recollections in the book are inaccurate. (See here for an interview with Carter about some of the book’s alleged inaccuracies.)
I would hope that both the left and the right could agree that using consumer-protection laws to sue authors and publishers who publish books with controversial theses is a very bad idea. Indeed, in a world full of Glenn Becks and Pat Buchanans, it is revealing that this is the first lawsuit of its kind (a point of pride, scarily enough, for the plaintiffs’ lawyers). But, of course, this is a book about Israel — and this lawsuit is simply a new front in the never-ending war against anyone who has the temerity to criticize Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. The goal of the lawsuit isn’t to force Simon & Schuster to pay damages for publishing Carter’s book; its goal is to bully Carter and other would-be critics of Israel into not writing books like Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid in the first place.
You want to talk about lawfare? This is it in its purest form.
Hat-tip: Bianca Dillon.