A Washington federal judge has dismissed a defamation suit the son of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas brought against the publisher of Foreign Policy magazine.
Yasser Abbas sued Foreign Policy and Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, over a June 2012 article Schanzer wrote questioning whether Abbas and his brother were profiting from their family's political connections.
Foreign Policy and Schanzer moved to dismiss the lawsuit under a D.C. law that offers defendants an early route to dismissal if they believe they've been sued over protected speech, known as an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) law.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan dismissed the case Friday, finding Abbas failed to show he would succeed on the merits. Sullivan wrote that the questions raised in Schanzer's article were just questions and didn't rise to the level of defamation.
"[T]he questions invite the reader to form her own judgments regarding the relationship between Mr. Abbas’s family ties and his admittedly great wealth," Sullivan wrote. "The reader could arrive at a number of different conclusions, a fact that Mr. Abbas acknowledges in his own complaint.…That Mr. Abbas would prefer that readers do not answer the questions in the affirmative is not sufficient to support his defamation claim."
Sullivan said that even if the questions Schanzer raised could be defamatory, Schanzer would still win because he was expressing opinion protected under the First Amendment.
The judge rejected Abbas' argument that the anti-SLAPP law did not apply in federal court, a contested issue since the law went into effect in 2011. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is scheduled to hear arguments in another defamation case on October 3 challenging the law's applicability in federal court.
Schanzer's attorney, Nathan Siegel of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz in Washington, said today that he and his client were "pleased that Judge Sullivan affirmed the First Amendment right of writers and journalists to raise questions and express opinions about public figures."
A spokesperson for Foreign Policy declined to comment. The company was represented by Williams & Connolly partner Kevin Baine, who declined to comment. An attorney for Abbas, Louis Adolfsen of Melito & Adolfsen in New York, could not immediately be reached.