When David Horowitz, the prominent right-wing Internet pamphleteer, slapped Joel Beinin’s face on the cover of his new booklet, “Campus Support for Terrorism,”쳌 the unabashedly left-wing Stanford history professor faced a quandary.
For all his harsh criticism of Israel, the 2005 booklet’s clear suggestion he supported terrorism was false and libelous, Beinin said. Indeed, even a staff writer for the Stanford Review, the university’s main conservative student publication, criticized Horowitz for going over the top. But suing Horowitz for libel presented formidable obstacles.
This week, Beinin — a former Zionist, kibbutz volunteer and would-be immigrant to Israel as a young man — wrested a rare $27,500 out-of-court settlement from Horowitz via a less conventional path.
Under libel law, Beinin noted, he would be considered a public figure in a suit against Horowitz. He would therefore have to show not just that Horowitz defamed him, but that he did so with “actual malice” — i.e., with knowledge his charge was false or “reckless disregard” of whether it is false or not; a high, rarely met bar.
Instead, Beinin asked the photographer who took the picture Horowitz used of him for its copyright. The photographer, who had originally taken the picture at Beinin’s request for a book Beinin published, readily transferred photo rights to him. Beinin then faxed Horowitz a request to remove his unauthorized picture from the booklet. When he did not, Beinin sued Horowitz for copyright infringement.
“The [Freedom] Center acknowledges using the photograph without consent, but believes its use was a fair use,” Horowitz wrote in a statement he was forced to release on his own Web site as part of the settlement. He was not required to admit liability.
As part of the agreement, Horowitz turned the $27,500 over to a women’s domestic violence shelter in Portland, Ore.
During the litigation, Horowitz derided critics who charged his tactics chilled his targets’ right to speak “without intimidation and fear.” He instead termed Beinin’s suit “an act of intimidation aimed directly at my free speech rights.”
But Beinin termed the result this week “a minor victory” in the debate about free debate on the Middle East.
“Any kind of resistance to the sort of smear campaign Horowitz and others in his camp have been mounting against those they disagree with is hopefully a deterrent,” he said. “It also requires public campaigns and exposure. The way this all works is by innuendo and insinuation.”