Last week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ son got the ole heave-ho from a U.S. federal court. The younger Abbas sued Foreign Policy Magazine and contributor Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of research at the Foundation for Defense Democracies, for online defamation. The judge ruled in favor of the defense, in part because Abbas allegedly has a history of using litigation to silence critics. Moreover, the decision set precedence: for through his ruling, the judge affirmed anti-SLAPP statues acceptable for federal court.
The Abbas Defamation Suit
In the summer of 2012, Jonathan Schanzer wrote a piece about Abbas, and Foreign Policy Magazine published the missive. In an article entitled, “The Brothers Abbas: Are the sons of the Palestinian President growing rich off their father’s system?”, Schanzer raised questions about the questionable link between Abbas’ sons’ business success and the family’s political connections. Though he teases the issue at times, Schanzer refrains from making a false statements of fact in the article.
Upset by the accusations, Abbas opted to sue Schnazer and Foreign Policy for defamation.
The Abbas Defamation Ruling
After reviewing both sides’ arguments, Judge Emmet Sullivan dismissed case, ultimately agreeing with the defense’s anti-SLAPP motion. In Sullivan’s own words:
- “[T]he questions invite the reader to form her own judgments regarding the relationship between Mr. Abbas’s family ties and his admittedly great wealth.” And,
- “The reader could arrive at a number of different conclusions, a fact that Mr. Abbas acknowledges in his own complaint.…That Mr. Abbas would prefer that readers do not answer the questions in the affirmative is not sufficient to support his defamation claim.”
Anti-SLAPP Implications of the Abbas Defamation Case
One of the central issues in the Abbas defamation suit was the question of whether or not anti-SLAPP laws can be applied in federal courts. In this instance, the bench spoke, and it said, “anti-SLAPP legislation is welcome in federal court.”
In his decision, Sullivan punctuated his admiration of anti-SLAPP legislation by sharing his opinion that Abbas had previously threatened lawsuits as a way to “counter bad press” – the exact type of activity that anti-SLAPP laws are meant to thwart.
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