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Palestinian journalists accused of slander by Arab-Christian priest in Israel

Father Gabriel Naddaf is a Greek-Orthodox priest in Nazareth who has been encouraging integration of Arab Christians into Israel's mainstream and openly supporting young Christians in enlisting with the Israeli military. He has accused a number of newspapers and journalists who have written about the issue of slander. Alaa Abdallah, the legal advisor for I'lam Media Center, has been on the journalists' team of defence attorneys.

During the week of 14 January 2014, the lawyers representing those accused of slander by Father Gabriel Naddaf presented a statement of defense. The accused are the newspapers Fasl al-Maqal and Hadith a-Naas, journalist Wadea Awawdy, and Sahir Al-Haaj, a journalist and editor at the newspaper Jafra.

The defense attorneys are Alaa Abdallah, I'lam Media Center's legal adviser, Alaa Mahajna, a member of I'lam's management, and Muhamad Suliman Eghbariyeh, from the agency Mizan for Human Rights (Nazareth).

The team of defense attorneys asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit for reasons of technicality and content. They argued that the plaintiff could not legally sue their clients because Naddaf's allegations do not form a legal basis under the Defamation Law.

In the statement of defense, the attorneys elaborated on the necessity of dismissing the lawsuit against their clients. They explained that Hadith a-Naas was sued because it printed the title “Priest kicked out of church,” which they said does not violate the Defamation Law according to the facts of the situation.

With regards to the allegation against Awawdy, the defense attorneys said that it is not clear why he was included in the lawsuit; the plaintiff based his reasoning on reports published by Al-Jazeera, which are not relevant and don't contain any aspect of slander.

In terms of the claims against Al-Haaj, the defense attorneys said he was sued because of a sentence he used in his coverage of the demonstration against recruiting Christians for the army, which took place in the Nazareth neighborhood of Yaffa. Al-Haaj published the following headline: “The church is a place of worship, not betrayal.”

The defense attorneys said that Al-Haaj tried repeatedly to contact Naddaf in order to speak with him but did not succeed.

The allegation against Fasl al-Maqal was based on an article published on the website of Arabs 48, which had no connection to Fasl al-Maqal or any trace of slander. Various media said that the article, by Rabia Eid, was titled “Naddaf: a priest without a parish, sponsored by Israel” and that the lawsuit distorted the translation of the word “sponsored.”

The statement of defense relied on several rulings by the High Court of Justice and opinions from its judges, including the decision 85/399: Kahana versus the Administrative Committee of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority, and 81/1: Shiran versus the Israeli Broadcasting Authority.

I'lam Media Center takes Naddaf's lawsuit very seriously, and said it is a form of political persecution and a way to silence journalists. I'lam warned that in recent years, slander lawsuits have become a “sword” of right-wing institutions that seek to limit freedom of speech for anyone who dares to legally criticize their policies.

In reference to this warning, Mahajna said, “The plaintiff's claims do not have any lawful basis; they lack the necessary legal elements to bring a lawsuit for slander. The plaintiff is trying to stifle public discussion on a controversial topic by taking dishonest legal action.”

The head of Mizan for Human Rights (Nazareth), Mustafa Suheil, said, “We believe that freedom of the press and the right to express oneself are basic freedoms, especially given our situation as Arab minority and that government institutions try to keep us quiet. We think that every individual has the right to express his opinion without someone trying to silence him.”

Abdallah, I'lam's legal adviser, said, “This sort of lawsuit poses a great danger to freedom of the press and the fundamental, constitutional right to express oneself, as well as society's right to receive and respond to information.”

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