Jimmy Carter has been called America’s worst ex-president. He’s earned this title in part because of his hostility against Israel. The prime example is his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. From the moment it came out, it has been criticized as being full of inaccuracies. Well, to be blunt, knowing falsehoods. People who were there—diplomats and former Carter aides—have pointed out distortions and untrue statements.
Carter has steadily refused to issue any corrections or admit any mistakes, and certainly not confess that he lied to prop up his political viewpoint.
As a general rule, a person can’t be sued simply for being dishonest about political matters. It isn’t defamation, in which a person is the direct victim of lies that paint her in an unflattering light. There is no tort of “defamation of a country” in American law.
But now, the estimable Israeli lawyer, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who has become justly famous for suing terrorists and terrorist-supporting countries, has sued Carter in federal court under a very clever theory.
Darshan-Leitner’s clients have filed a class action lawsuit against Carter under New York’s consumer protection laws. In essence they assert that they were misled into buying a work of fiction, thinking it was nonfiction.
The complaint alleges:
“1. This is an action seeking damages for these plaintiffs and all others who purchased the book, Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid, written by Defendant JIMMY CARTER, published by Defendant SIMON & SCHUSTER, Inc, and promoted by them both as a work of non-fiction, deserving of special weight and consideration because of Carter’s standing as a former president, which purportedly provides an accurate factual record of historical events and key agreements related to negotiations between Israel and Palestinian Arabs.
“2. Plaintiffs and others who bought the book did so in reliance on Defendants’ representations that the events and agreements which are the subject of the book were described accurately, fully and fairly as they actually occurred. In truth, however, the book is filled with demonstrable falsehoods, omissions, and knowing misrepresentations intended to promote Carter’s agenda of anti-Israel propaganda, rather than a true and accurate picture of all matters and events described in the book.
“3. Since the book’s publication and widespread dissemination based on such promotional efforts, some of Carter’s closest aides, including distinguished public officials and scholars personally involved in the events described, have demonstrated with irrefutable evidence and credible detailed statements, the completely false nature of Carter’s rendition of the historical record and certain key agreements and have established the book’s fully deceptive nature and Carter’s correspondingly deceptive agenda.
“4. Notwithstanding such irrefutable proof that many of the representations in the book unequivocally held out as true are in fact demonstrably false, misleading, and deceptive, Defendant SIMON & SCHUSTER, Inc., steadfastly has refused to make any corrections of such false, misleading, and deceptive provisions in the book and both Defendants continue unabashedly to promote the sale of this deceptive product as a work of non-fiction filled only with a truthful account all [sic] matters depicted in it, denying all claims by those well respected officials that Carter has fabricated things in the book which he claims to be true.”
The complaint then lays out in fine detail the falsehoods in Carter’s book. The indictment is crushing.
However, there is a real question whether this action will survive judicial scrutiny. A Simon & Schuster spokesman called the action “frivolous,” and perhaps the court may agree. Certainly, there are First Amendment, free speech issues to sort out.
However—and here’s the beauty of Darshan-Leitner’s scheme—even if they lose, they win. They win because they are not so very interested in winning money damages from Carter. What they want is to publicize his abysmal relationship with truthfulness, and his political bias against Israel. They win when they file the action; they win if the case is dismissed; they win if they lose in front of a jury; they win if they win; they win if the case is appealed, by either side. Every time the case is mentioned, discussed, analyzed or commented upon, plaintiffs’ claim that Carter’s book is dishonest is spread around and reinforced.
When I was in law school, there was a textbook with a cartoon in it. In the cartoon a lawyer is lawyering in front of a panel of three judges. One judge leans over to another and confides: “Sure, it’s hearsay—but it’s great hearsay!”
This lawsuit is a political stunt—but it’s a great political stunt!