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Libel, libel, everywhere

Published: May 2, 2008
Section: Opinions


Andrew Brooks’ injunction against the Election Commission is more than just an affront to the voting public of Brandeis. It is a dangerous precedent to set, and may seriously affect another candidate who has had complaints of libel by surrogates brought up against him: Andrew Brooks. The story behind the story here is that the Brooks/Sulsky campaign was not the only one that made charges of libel. The Shuster campaign also submitted a complaint to the Election Commission charging Brooks/Sulsky supporters with falsely labeling both Noam Shouster and Kaamila Mohammed as anti-Israel. It cites an email written by Sarah Hammerschlag and a Facebook note written by Asher Tananbaum.

Sent to the Students United for Israel listserv, the Hammerschlag email openly portrays both Shouster and Mohammed as anti-Israel, saying that “there is no doubt that they would not be friendly toward Israel in their official capacities as members of the Senate.” This statement is based on nothing but the two candidate’s involvement in Students for Justice in Palestine. She goes on to say “The write-in campaign is a clear attack against any marginal pro-Israel sentiments in the Senate.” Finished with her misrepresentation, Hammerschlag ends her email with a plea to vote for Brooks and Sulsky. The hit job is complete. In her email she lies about Noam Shouster and Kaamila Mohammed in order to defeat their campaign. That is libelous.

Asher Tananbaum’s email contains less in the way of outright lies, but makes up for it in strident antipathy for anyone who dares take part in the democratic process. He declares that Noam Shouster has a campaign run entirely on “two pillars…1. Noam Shuster is an Israeli who lives in a mixed Arab-Jewish town. 2. Andrew Brooks and Justin Sulsky are anti-Palestinian.” While it is true that Shouster did indeed grow up in a town of that description, to say that her campaign was based off of it is false, especially considering she had a website in place that provided her platform. The second comment, along with another that follows—“Her entire campaign is essentially a referendum on the Arab-Israeli conflict”—show not only dishonesty but projection, as Sarah Hammerschlag had already tried to make the election a referendum on the Arab-Israeli conflict and called Noam Shouster and Kaamila Mohammed anti-Israel. Tannenbaum (who was also an administrator and officer in the Brooks/Sulsky Facebook group) filled his note with other rhetoric that was no less insulting to the intelligence, such as “What you will get with Ms. Shuster is yet another insider and yes-woman, not an independent thinker.” This is not libel, as it is a matter of opinion. It is still pretty unsavory, though.

Nelson Rutrick, the Elections Commissioner, responded to the complaint by saying “The claims filed by both sides in this debate have both been considered to be examples of negative campaigning because they are statements based in opinion.” It was his call to make, just as it is now the Judiciary’s. If it goes through, however, and the Judiciary holds up Brooks’s definition of libel, it could prove very disastrous…for Andrew Brooks.