Amiri Baraka, New Jersey’s controversial poet laureate who some New Jersey lawmakers are seeking to strip of his title, now faces a libel suit by five Israelis mentioned in his poem, “Who Blew Up America.”
“He alleges that they knew in advance about the bombing,” said their lawyer, Nitzana Darshan-Leitner. “He writes, ‘Who knew the World Trade Center was going to get bombed’ and ‘Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers to stay home that day.’ … I was personally shocked at this blood libel, and the fact that it goes all over the Internet and is picked up in Arab countries. It’s time to stop that rumor.”
Although the poem does not name the five Israelis, Darshan-Leitner said it is libelous because “you can sue for innuendo and conjecture.”
In the poem, Baraka wrote: “Who know why Five Israelis was filming the explosion/And cracking they sides at the notion.”
The five men, aged 22 to 25, were arrested hours after the terrorist attack after they were spotted on the roof of the moving company they worked for smiling and taking pictures of each other with the burning World Trade Center in the background. They were later cleared of any connection with the attack.
Baraka said he never suggested that the five Israelis knew in advance of the terrorist attack, rather just raised questions about why they were there. “If I am sued because I asked why, that is a pathetic state of affairs,” he said.
Leon Friedman, a libel lawyer and professor of First Amendment law at Hofstra University School of Law, said of the planned suit: “I think it’s a stretch.”
“You can libel by innuendo,” he said, “but there is a need for a clear defamatory statement, and I don’t think it’s there.”
Darshan-Leitner said she has also put New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey on notice that she plans to sue him for libel as well unless action is taken to remove Baraka as the state’s poet laureate. Legislation has been introduced in the state senate that would give the governor the power to fire him.