Louis Farrakhan
Louis FarrakhanReuters

The Simon Wiesenthal Center Jewish human rights organization (SWC) moved to dismiss meritless defamation claims by The Nation of Islam and its leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan, based on allegations that the Center called them antisemitic.

In a motion to dismiss filed December 12, 2023, in U.S. District Court in New York, lawyers for the SWC and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Center’s Global Social Action Director, noted that “it is more important than ever for Jewish organizations and individuals—and hopefully all organizations and individuals—to be able to call out antisemitism in order to counter it, without fear of the legal system being weaponized to silence them. These First Amendment protections are critical, and indeed, foundational to our American democracy.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s motion cites FBI statistics that while Jewish-Americans represent only 2.4% of Americans today, they account for approximately 60% of all religious-based hate crimes. “In their synagogues, their children’s Jewish day schools, their kosher markets, on college campuses everywhere, and in fact, just walking down the street, Jews in America today are under siege,” according to the motion.

The filing is the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s response to a $4.8 billion lawsuit the Nation of Islam and Farrakhan filed October 16, 2023, for alleged defamation against the Center and Rabbi Cooper, a noted expert on online hate and terrorism who this year was named chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Also named as defendants were the Anti-Defamation League and its chief executive, Jonathan Greenblatt.

“We all not only have a Constitutional right but a duty to call out every form of antisemitism. Sadly, we live in a time when hate will continue to spread unless we are free to confront it,” said Rabbi Cooper.

The filing seeks to dismiss the three counts in the lawsuit involving the Center and Rabbi Cooper, which is based on “two opinions expressed by the defendants calling them antisemitic,” according to the court papers.

“Regardless of whether Plaintiffs made their allegations against Defendants in good faith, Plaintiffs’ baseless defamation claims should be dismissed because, as a matter of law, the statements were non-actionable opinions that were made without malice.”

Two of the counts, the filing argues, should be dismissed “because both Federal and State Courts in New York consistently hold that accusations of antisemitism (or similar bigotry) are protected opinions, which cannot serve as the basis for a defamation claim. In addition, the filing argues that “Plaintiffs do not—and cannot—allege that Defendants made any statements with actual malice as is required. Since the statements at issue involve matters of public interest, and Plaintiffs admit Farrakhan is a public figure, Plaintiffs must prove that the allegedly defamatory statements were made with actual malice.” According to the filing, the third count against the center and Rabbi Cooper should be dismissed on its merits “because it utterly fails to allege any statement—much less a defamatory one—by any Defendant.”

The filing states that in fact, “Plaintiffs seek here to rewrite decades of legal precedent and overturn the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.”

Attorney Patty Glaser said, “The last two months have seen an exponential rise in antisemitism across the United States triggered by the tragedy in the Middle East. Using the courts to tie the hands of those speaking up against hate and bigotry is against the freedoms that define our nation.”

Attorney Julie Gerchik added, “Just as one should have the freedom to speak out against racism, sexism, homophobia and other reprehensible forms of hatred, all of us must be free to speak out against antisemitism without fear of reprisal.”

The filing requests that the court dismiss the claims with prejudice. The Simon Wiesenthal Center and Rabbi Cooper are represented by Patricia L. Glaser and Julie R. Gerchik of Glaser Weil Fink Howard Jordan & Shapiro LLP.

In March, The Wiesenthal Center and other Jewish and human rights organizations condemned Farrakhan for a speech he gave at the Nation of Islam Savior’s Day conference in Chicago.

The speech, titled “The War of Armageddon Has Begun,” included accusations that Jews control world governments, the media and financial institutions. Farrakhan also again referred to the Jewish community as the “Synagogue of Satan.”

In response, SWC Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, slammed Farrakhan for “four decades of non-stop vicious Jew-hatred.”

He noted that Farrakhan’s long record of antisemitism has “born poison fruit in the mainstream of our society.”

“Words lead to action and his toxic hatred has been absorbed by many including Kanye West,” Rabbi Cooper said.

“We urge all our neighbors to reject his hate and we must commit to strengthen our relationships for the betterment of all Americans whatever their color creed or orientation.”