US Tablet Defends Convicted Dead Sea Scrolls Cyberbully

The US Tablet has published a gushing puff piece on Raphael Golb, by a certain Batya Ungar-Sargon. The background to the story has been widely reported: Golb conducted a long-term campaign of identity theft and harassment in order to defend the academic theories of his father Norman Golb concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls, using a plethora of fake identities; his attention was focused primarily on Lawrence Schiffman, but it was one of his other victims, Robert Cargill, who pieced together much of the evidence.  Raphael Golb was convicted in New York in October 2010, as I noted here; the case is currently under appeal.

Ungar-Sargon describes R. Golb as “a brilliant young Harvard Ph.D.”, although press reports from 2010 gave his age as 49. The piece promotes Golb’s defence that his acts were merely “parody”, and as such were protected speech:

In the emails, the fictional Schiffman admitted to having plagiarized the work of Norman Golb… “It is true that I should have cited Dr. Golb’s articles when using his arguments,” the email reads, “and it is true that I misrepresented his ideas. But this is simply the politics of Dead Sea Scrolls studies. If I had given credit to this man I would have been banned from conferences around the world.” It was signed—by some accounts, implausibly—”Lawrence Schiffman, professor,” with a lower-case “p.”

Raphael Golb admits to having sent the email, but he maintains that it was an act of parody, rather than criminal impersonation.

The argument that a small “p” is evidence of parody rather than impersonation is rather weak – and note the way that “emails” becomes “it” and then a singular “email”. In fact, the “professor” sign-off appeared on only one of many emails that were sent out falsely under Schiffman’s name.

Ungar-Sargon goes on:

Yet for impersonation to be criminal, benefit must be shown to the impersonator, or harm to the impersonated… Jordan Kovnot, a privacy researcher at Fordham Law School, told me in an email interview that in “most computer hacking crimes involving unauthorized access, such as creating an email account under false pretenses, the law generally does require some showing of harm, unless the target was the U.S. government. That was not the case here.” In a recent telephone interview, Schiffman himself insisted that he suffered no harm; “the opposite, I got a big raise out of it,” he said—noting his recent move from NYU to YU, where he makes more money than he did at NYU—”though emotionally it was very difficult.” Without harm or benefit, it is difficult to understand how the prosecution managed to make the felonies stick.

This is obtuse: Golb’s crimes were harassment and impersonation; “hacking” is neither here nor there. And it’s clear that Golb intended to benefit his father and to harm Schiffman – the fact that it backfired because campaigns of harassment and impersonation are self-defeating is hardly mitigation.

Ungar-Sargon also lays into the judge:

But Judge Berkman—herself an object of controversy, a judge whose verdicts have been rejected by appellate courts with terms such as “a gross miscarriage of justice”—insisted over and over throughout the trial that “neither good faith nor the truth is a defense” and based her decision, she wrote, on her sense that Golb’s email was “a parody over the line.” Golb argues that “she forbade me from defending the claim made in the email that Schiffman had plagiarized my father, and yet she allowed the prosecution to insist 170 times before the jury that I had made ‘false allegations.'”

That link leads to an account of one instance in which a sentence handed down by Judge Carol Berkman was deemed to have been unduly harsh. The way that this becomes “verdicts”, just as Golb’s emails become “email”, suggests that the author has some kind of problem counting things. Berkman appears to be something of a controversial and difficult character, but the fact that the author tries to bolster her case in this way serves to show how weak it is. Golb, meanwhile, appears to think that the court should have given him a platform to continue his vendetta.

When Golb was sentenced, his father maintained a silence on the subject. Ungar-Sargon, though, has spoken with Norman Golb:

… He says his son was “rather rash, but brave to do it. And after seeing all that I had gone through, how they had tried to suppress my ideas, he had every right to do it.”

That’s a strange sentiment from any mature adult, let alone from someone who wishes to maintain a serious professional reputation.

(H/T Robert Cargill)