You may not have heard of Rachel Ehrenfeld or the SPEECH Act (Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act), the one truly bipartisan piece of legislation passed unanimously during the Obama presidency. Ehrenfeld, the SPEECH Act, and the relative unenthusiasm that greeted the passage of legislation that concerns both the First Amendment and jihadism tell us a lot about “law-ware” being waged by Islamists.
Ehrenfeld has worked as an investigative journalist and researcher since the early 1990s. She is Israeli by birth and now an American citizen. In 2004 she was sued in the UK by a Saudi billionaire, Khalid bin Mahfouz. In her book Funding Evil, she documented his and other Saudis’ connection to and support for radical Muslim groups. Although her book was not distributed there and she is not a citizen or resident of the UK, British libel laws allowed the suit to proceed. (The case was described in detail in Andrew McCarthy’s COMMENTARY article, “Can Libel Tourism Be Stopped?” in September 2008.) Bin Mahfouz was the only figure to sue her, although two others named in the book sued other publications. She explained to me in a phone interview that before his death the Saudi billionarie had in essence created a cottage industry suing or threatening to sue more than 40 journalists and publications in England, thereby intimidating Western journalists. Why sue her? “I had a very small publisher,” she tells me. And as an Israeli, she was an attractive target. It isn’t money the Islamists are after, she explains. “We don’t need your money; we need big ads retracting the story,” she quotes a Saudi prince. The name of the game here is to silence Western media.
But “I hadn’t done anything wrong” she says. “It was never tried on the merits. I wanted to stop it.” So she countersued the Saudi in New York court. While sympathetic, the court issued an opinion declaring that it lacked jurisdiction over the case. She didn’t stop there. She went to the New York legislature, which in a few months passed what became known as “Rachel’s law,” making clear that foreign libel judgments against U.S. journalists that run afoul of the First Amendment are not enforceable in the U.S. She then went to Capitol Hill and testified before Congress. Sponsored in the House by Democrat Steve Cohen and in the Senate by Pat Leahy and Jeff Sessions, the SPEECH Act was signed into law in August.
The reaction of the White House, not to mention the mainstream media, was oddly muted. Ehrenfeld explains that there was no signing ceremony, “Yet there’s a signing ceremony when they name some tree.” She also tells me that a joint op-ed by Sens. Sessions and Leahy was rejected by major publications, including the New York Times. (The Times did not respond to my request for comment.) She says, “Something very strange is going on.” Are the administration and mainstream media uncomfortable advertising the Saudi connection to terror funding and the need for such legislation? Ehrenfeld asserts that in both Britain and the U.S., media outlets have “caved to political correctness.” She warns that monetary interests (“Greed is the mother of all evil, ” she remarks) and the politicization of the press and the plaintiff’s bar in England have worked hand in hand to insulate Muslim groups from scrutiny.
I asked her if she sees a connection between “libel tourism” (the name for use of the UK courts to intimidate journalists) and the current furor over supposed, but unproven, Islamophobia in the U.S. She responds emphatically, “Wealthy Muslims are trying to dictate what the media does.” She explains that the Saudis and others go to great pains to “train” U.S. journalists, invite them on junkets, and press their view that accusations of terrorism are libelous and/or stem from bigotry. “It is very important to expose those who are enemies of both Israel and the U.S.,” Ehrenfeld says. “The same organizations are out to harm both the U.S. and Israel.” In Europe, she explains, foes of the U.S. and Israel are “supporting anti-Israel and anti-American groups. Take the flotilla incident. … Anti-Israel propaganda is increasing.” British journalists may be prevented from reporting by threat of litigation, “but here in America, we can do that without being sued.”
On a personal note, she adds that “it sometimes takes a new American to demand First Amendment rights, while Americans [by birth] are blase. My parents were in the Irgun and won against the Brits. I came to America. And I won against the Brits too.” Yes, she did.
Her implication is clear: if the mainstream media and the chattering class fall silent and cease researching, investigating and commenting on terror connections because of economic pressure and the reign of political correctness, the First Amendment will be severely weakened, and terrorists and their sponsors will escape scrutiny. Whether by libel tourism or accusations of Islamophobia, the Islamic radicals will use all available means to ensure that they can continue to conduct the jihadist war from the shadows. They will certainly succeed unless others join Rachel Ehrenfeld and refuse to be silenced.