Phi Beta Cons

Pass Rachel’s Law

A bill that should be of the greatest import to academics and journalists, the “Libel Terrorism Reform Act,” is pending in the New York State Legislature. It was put forth in the wake of the court case Ehrenfeld v. bin Mahfouz.

As I noted earlier, Rachel Ehrenfeld is an internationally recognized counterterrorism expert. In her book Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It, she showed that the wealthy Khalid bin Mahfouz, banker to the Saudi royal family, is a leading terrorism financier.
Bin Mahfouz responded by suing Ehrenfeld for libel – but in the UK, where there has been a spike in such actions by powerful, nonresident Arabs with links to terrorism, because libel law strongly favors plaintiffs.
Although a Manhattan federal court dismissed her case, it noted that the jurisdictional problem it posed “should be directed to the Legislature.”
Why is such a law so crucial? As Samuel Abady and Harvey Silverglate write, it would render “all foreign libel judgments unenforceable in New York, as no court outside the United States abides by our First Amendment protections.”
Not only will this law protect our invaluable freedom of expression in New York. “It also will serve as a template for action by Congress – and attract foreign counterterrorism scholars and journalists to our shores.”
Surely higher educators and journalists can unite in enjoining state lawmakers to pass this vital legislation. Our survival in great measure hangs on it. In the words of Rory Lancman, one of the sponsors of the act: “The ability of our journalists, authors and press to expose . . . the truth is the most important weapon we have in the War on Terror.”

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