AIPAC wins court battle with former top official Rosen
A D.C. Superior Court judge on Wednesday dismissed a $20 million defamation suit brought by a leading pro-Israel activist against his former employer, in a high-profile battle that involved charges of espionage and pornography.
In 2009, Steven J. Rosen brought suit against officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Washington’s most powerful pro-Israel lobby, charging it defamed him by firing him in 2005 with a statement to the New York Times alleging that his conduct “did not comport with standards that AIPAC expects of its employees.”
At the time, Rosen and another AIPAC official, Keith Weissman, were under investigation by the Justice Department on suspicion of illegally obtaining classified documents from a Pentagon official. Espionage-related charges against them were eventually dropped.
Rosen, AIPAC’s director of foreign policy issues for many years, contended that he was fired because Justice Department officials threatened to make AIPAC a target in their investigation if it didn’t. He contended that AIPAC had not only condoned his gathering of sensitive national security information from government officials, but encouraged it.
Their legal struggle turned tawdry late last year, when AIPAC added to its claims of misconduct by charging in a motion that that Rosen watched pornography on his office computer. Rosen countered that some top AIPAC officials did, too.
But in granting AIPAC’s motion for a summary judgment, D.C. Superior Court Judge Erik P. Christian said that a jury would find it “impossible” to figure out what AIPAC’s standards of conduct are, not to mention whether Rosen had violated them.
“Allowing Rosen’s claim to go to trial would task the jury with identifying the standards referred to in the March 3 Times article, determining whether AIPAC had such express or implied standards, and determining whether Rosen’s conduct was in accordance with those standards,” Christian wrote.
“As explained above, these would be impossible tasks. At the same time, inviting a jury to scrutinize and second-guess an employer’s policies and business judgment would effectively convert this garden-variety claim for defamation into one for wrongful termination or discrimination. In contrast to those employment claims, the issue in this case is not the veracity of AIPAC’s motivation for firing Rosen The issue is the objective truth of AIPAC’s public statement concerning Rosen’s firing. It is on this limited issue that the Court concludes that the statement is not provably false, and therefore, not defamatory as a matter of law.”
Rosen could not be reached immediately for comment.
[UPDATE: "We are likely to appeal," Rosen said. "But I am not making any other statement at this time."
AIPAC spokesman Patrick Dorton, a target of Rosen’s suit, hailed the decision.
“We are very pleased that the Superior Court has granted summary judgment and ended Steve Rosen's defamation lawsuit against AIPAC and its spokesman. The court’s decision, that the statements made by AIPAC and its spokesman were not defamatory, support AIPAC’s continued assertion that this lawsuit was frivolous and had no basis in fact.”
| February 23, 2011; 8:00 PM ET
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