An Ashland man and three others are being sued for more than $1 million after allegedly assaulting a California woman who staged an interruption during a May 2011 speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the U.S. House of Representatives chamber.
Stanley A. Shulster, 73, a former lawyer who lives on Pilot View Road, and three other unidentified activists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee allegedly assaulted Rachel T. Abileah, 29, of El Granada, Calif., as she rose to her feet in protest midway through the prime minister's speech.
Abileah waved a banner that read, "Occupying land is indefensible" and yelled, "No more occupation, stop Israeli war crimes, equal rights for Palestinians." Shulster, who was sitting nearby, attempted to grab the banner out of her hands.
"I wouldn't let go, and that's when things started to get violent," Abileah said. "He grabbed my wrist and pulled me to the ground."
Abileah, who is the Jewish daughter of an Israeli, alleged that after Shulster pulled her down, he put his hand over her mouth and violently pulled her head back, injuring her neck. During the altercation, three people sitting nearby continued to push and grab her, holding her on the ground, she said.
Abileah's disruption made national news, appearing on CNN.com, Democracy Now! and a Huffington Post blog, among other media.
Shulster declined to comment on the incident on the advice of his attorney.
There is a warrant for Shulster's arrest in the District of Columbia, issued by the U.S. Capitol Police, said Lynne Bernabei, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing Abileah.
Shulster would not say why he was at Netanyahu's speech, but a short biography on the website of the Jackson County Republican Women lists Shulster as a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a national organization dedicated to strengthening the bond between the U.S. and Israel.
The website also lists Shulster as a volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces Medical Service and an unpaid lobbyist, but none of those titles nor his AIPAC membership were confirmed by Shulster.
Abileah, who is a member of the grassroots peace and social justice movement Code Pink, was on Capitol Hill in May to protest a weeklong AIPAC conference there, she said.
Her action was part of Code Pink's "Move over AIPAC" demonstrations during the conference.
She gained access to the congressional session after obtaining a ticket from a lawmaker whom she would not name and passing a background check, she said.
"I felt like it was really important to have at least one voice in that chamber to hold our government accountable," she said. "The AIPAC lobby has such a dangerous stranglehold over our Congress, that our representatives are afraid to speak out against it."
Netanyahu received 29 standing ovations during the speech, according to ABC News, four more than President Obama's preceding State of the Union address.
"It was nauseating," said Abileah, "to watch Congress applaud a war criminal like he is our president."
Prior to the May incident, in November 2010, Abileah disrupted another speech by Netanyahu at the Jewish Federations General Assembly in New Orleans, she said.
"It is very shocking that something like this would happen in Congress," said Bernabei. "If an issue like that arises, or any issue for that matter, you let the police handle it."
The Capitol Police arrested Abileah after the May 2011 incident on a charge of disorderly conduct for disrupting a congressional session, a misdemeanor. However, that charge was nullified from her record by a Superior Court of the District of Columbia judge, after Abileah upheld her end of a six-month agreement to stay away from Capitol Hill and not get arrested.
"Which is ridiculous in its own regard," Abileah said, "to be banned from redressing your government."
As Abileah was escorted out of the chamber by police, she told them she would like to press charges against the individuals who assaulted her and requested medical attention. She was transported to George Washington University Hospital, treated for neck and shoulder injuries, and released that night. Abileah was then arrested and booked and released from jail.
Upon her request to press charges, police returned to the chamber and interviewed everyone involved in the dispute.
Abileah and her attorneys filed the lawsuit in June 2011 in the District of Columbia Superior Court, Bernabei said. But Shulster's identity was not discovered until late January, when the case was moved to the U.S. District Court there and the Capitol Police were subpoenaed for a portion of its investigation into the incident, Bernabei said.
The identity of the three additional defendants is hinging on the return of additional subpoenas from the Capitol Police, Bernabei said.
She said the case will now enter discovery, and it will be up to a judge to determine whether to move forward with the complaint and demand for a jury.
In the complaint, Abileah calls for charging each of the defendants with assault and battery and Shulster with an additional charge of false imprisonment.
Furthermore, Abileah requests no less than $500,000 for compensatory and consequential damages caused by the defendants, and $500,000 for punitive damages. Also, she requests that her costs for filing and pursuing the lawsuit be compensated.
After the May 24 incident, physicians recommended that Abileah stay home and rest for about two weeks because of her injuries, according to the complaint.
If Abileah wins her case, she said the money would go toward paying her medical expenses and any leftover funds likely would be distributed among human rights activist organizations.
"What I would really appreciate is an apology from Mr. Shulster," she said. "I don't hold some kind of hatred against him or anything. I just think he should be held accountable for his actions."
Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.