Journalists rally in defense of ex-Haaretz reporter hit with crippling libel suit

Journalists Rally in Defense of ex-Haaretz Reporter Hit With Crippling Libel Suit

Nati Tucker, Aug 11, 2016, Ha’aretz

Thousands of Israelis have promised to put up cash to help an Israeli journalist facing millions of shekels in legal fees for libel for posting a disparaging Facebook update about an Israeli developer who is a convicted human trafficker.

In the space of less than two days, more than 3,000 people, mostly journalists and but also members of the public, have rallied to the defense of Sharon Shpurer, a former reporter for Haaretz and its business daily, TheMarker. Organized by the Journalists Association, the supporters committed each to pay 560 shekels (about $150) to defray the cost of any judgment rendered against her so-called SLAPP suit filed by Urban Real Estate, which had been owned by David (Dudi) Digmi, a figure who was convicted of trafficking women. The signatories’ commitment was conditioned on 3,000 people ultimately signing on.

On a cumulative basis, the commitment would amount to about 620,000 shekels. For purposes of comparison, 400,000 shekels was raised within a day in a crowdfunding effort to fund the defense of Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier charged with manslaughter for shooting a prone and subdued Palestinian terrorist. In Shpurer’s case however, the commitment secured was to defray a portion of a future judgment against the reporter rather than a contribution up front in her defense.
The lawsuit against Shpurer is seen by some as a so-called SLAPP suit, a strategic lawsuit against public participation designed to silence or intimidate. The suit by Urban Real Estate is seeking damages of 1.68 million shekels in connection with several comments that Shpurer posted on her Facebook page in which she called the company “dubious” and called on members of the public not to patronize the firm due to its owner’s former crimes.

Shpurer had written a series of investigative reports for Haaretz and TheMarker relating to Digmi and his partners. Digmi was arrested and convicted in Belgium of trafficking women. He then fled to Israel through the Netherlands were he again faced human trafficking violations, in addition to a rape charge. Digmi then became a witness for the state and most of the charges against him were dropped. Shpurer’s Facebook post referred to a real-estate company which Digmi founded during the time of his offences.

The commitment signed by those supporting Shpurer read as following; “I willingly take upon myself the possible financial responsibility to support free journalism in Israel, the public’s right to know and the desire to create a public force against the threats being posed to journalists attempting to hold big money accountable through such a SLAPP suit.”

Opposition lawmaker Miki Rosenthal (Zionist Union), who as a filmmaker also faced such a suit, voiced his support for the initiative, saying “I recommend that all those who hold free press dear to join and help Sharon Shpurer in her battle against the SLAPP suit filed by the Urban real-estate company.”