Solidarity with David Sheen

We are journalists who wish to express our concern at the defamation suit against our colleague David Sheen. He is being sued by a leading Israeli general, Israel Ziv.

Sheen is a respected reporter and analyst, one with a deep knowledge of Israeli society, who regularly investigates issues related to racism and human rights abuses.

Over the years, a number of investigations by the Israeli media have tied Ziv to some of the world’s ugliest regimes.

Sheen’s comments about Ziv were provoked by the latest such investigation, carried out late last year by Israel’s Channel 2 TV. It published transcripts of conversations between Ziv and his business associates in which they discussed rehabilitating the reputation of Salva Kiir Mayardit, the president of South Sudan.

This was after the United Nations revealed that Salva Kiir had permitted soldiers under his command to rape women and children on a mass scale. Ziv and his team proposed exploiting a rape victim by bringing her to the UN General Assembly so that Salva Kiir could blame such war crimes on indigenous African tribal culture.

Despite being offered the chance on both Ch2 and Army Radio to deny the accuracy of the transcripts, Ziv declined to do so.

In a subsequent article Sheen wrote about the treatment of Africans by Israelis, he commented critically on Ziv’s behaviour. This is what he is being sued for, despite such criticism clearly being protected under the important right of journalists to comment fairly on matters of public interest.

This is not the first time Ziv has sought to silence journalists.

The Hebrew website Local Call received threats of litigation from Ziv over its reporting of his activities.

And in an extremely rare move, the Haaretz newspaper has removed from its website five investigative articles it published between 2009 and 2011 on Ziv’s business activities in Guinea and Abkhazia. Haaretz also parted ways with the reporter who wrote the articles after complaints from Ziv, and in circumstances none of those involved are prepared to talk about.

It is noteworthy that Ch2’s investigation revealed discussions between Ziv and his associates on ways that his company, Global CST, could manipulate and deceive the media about Salva Kiir’s brutal policies in South Sudan. Ziv appears to believe that journalists are there to serve his interests and not to act as independent watchdogs on power and its misuse.

Also noticeable is that Ziv is not suing a large organisation like Ch2 that published the original allegations and is equipped to defend itself in court. He is targeting an independent journalist as a way to intimidate other reporters. This is the very definition of a SLAPP suit, which is “intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition”.

It is important that the principle of journalistic freedom is upheld and that Ziv is not able to use the courts as way to exempt himself and his business activities from scrutiny, or from criticism. For that reason, we stand in solidarity with David Sheen and call on the court to dismiss the suit against him.

• Ali Abunimah • Ben Ehrenreich • Antony Loewenstein •
• Canadian Journalists for Free Expression • see the full list

Journalists are invited to add their names to this letter of support: