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Bleak House – The Sordid Story of the Michal Tal Case

“I have finally received some measure of belated justice, and I would like to believe that more will come.”

Last week, after five long years of my being dragged through the courts, defamed, libeled and slandered, Israel’s Supreme Court issued a ruling in the Michal Tal case that stated: “There is not and never was any basis whatsoever for any claim of plagiarism or copyright infringement brought against Naomi Ragen in the Jerusalem District Court.”

Far from a mere technical victory, this ruling was an acknowledgement by Tal’s own children, one of whom is a lawyer, who had attended the court sessions and listened to testimony throughout, that this case was frivolous and baseless. For had they had the slightest hope of winning, they stood to gain NIS 2.5 million. Instead they withdrew at the first opportunity.

A short recap of what happened will explain why.

On February 14, 2007, Tal’s lawyer, Gilad Corinaldi (גלעד קורינאלדי), sent me a brutally worded threatening letter via the Internet demanding that I pay his client, “… in light of the copyright violation and the profits you have made from [Tal’s book] which have illegally enriched you, a more than appropriate sum of money… You have five days of grace from the receipt of this letter to take the above actions. If you do not comply with these demands, my client will take the following actions: …apply to the courts for injunctions against you and the three publishers who market and sell your books to remove the books from the bookstores…; sue you for millions of shekels (the sum has not yet been fixed); publicize your copyright violations on a special Internet site and also issue a press release to all the media in Israel and especially outside Israel in order to give your readers an opportunity to judge for themselves the act of plagiarism you committed. Your fate is in your hands. Your good name and the future of your works hang in the balance [emphasis in the original].”

“Am I being blackmailed?” I asked myself. “Who are these people? What do they want from me?” I had never heard of either of them, and I certainly had never read Tal’s book.

On Tuesday, February 20 at 10:40 p.m., Gilad Corinaldi called my cell phone and spoke to my husband, who told him to expect a reply to his letter the next day from my lawyers. On Wednesday, my lawyers faxed Corinaldi a reply which categorically stated that my book was entirely my own creation, that I had never heard of either Tal or her book and that I was not going to pay Tal anything because she didn’t deserve anything.

The very next day, a Thursday, Corinaldi and Tal appeared in the Jerusalem District Court and demanded an urgent ex-parte session (that is, a session in the presence of one side only; I knew nothing about this session and was thus unable to defend myself against their baseless accusations) on the grounds that it was impossible to contact me and that I was about to flee to the country. Tal claimed not to know my home phone number but didn’t tell the court that her lawyer had called my cell phone. She offered no proof for her allegations. Instead, she told the court that an unnamed “mutual friend” had, at her request, given me a copy of her book years before. The coup de grace was a 50-page table of “similarities” between her book and mine.

Inexplicably, the court did not ask Mr. Corinaldi to support his allegations with any kind of proof. Even though both books had been published a decade before, the judge accepted Mr. Corinaldi’s argument that the matter was urgent and justified an ex-parte session. The judge took Mr. Corinaldi’s word for everything and granted the injunctions, ordering that all copies of The Ghost of Hannah Mendes be removed from bookstores, no questions asked. In fact, the judge even ignored Mr. Corinaldi’s statement (strategically buried deep in a paragraph at the end of his motion) acknowledging his receipt of my lawyer’s letter a day earlier.

All of this happened without my being present to defend myself. So much for due process and fair hearings.

Completely unaware of what had happened, I was awakened at 6:30 on a Friday morning by a phone call from a reporter wanting my reaction. The story made front page news in all the weekend papers.

This was exactly what the letter had promised would happen if I didn’t pay up.

I later learned that I was neither the first nor the only victim of Mr. Corinaldi’s tactic of an urgent ex-parte session late Thursday afternoon followed by front page coverage in the weekend press. The same thing had happened in the David Hachi Tov (דוד הכי טוב) case, with the same judge.

Those who have read my last novel, The Tenth Song, will understand exactly what my family and I went though. I felt raped, assaulted and bloodied. It was two weeks before I had my day in court. The injunctions were lifted immediately with no objections from Tal; they had apparently served their purpose.

How many hours of precious time did I waste going through that 50-page book of ”similarities”? Tal claimed copyright over the concept of a family tree. She claimed I had put a woman on the cover of my book that looked like the woman on the cover of her book. She compared blue eyes to brown eyes, pigtails to ponytails. And then there were the “quotes” that had simply been invented, texts that were neither in her book nor in mine, doctored “quotes” with words added or left out, to “prove” that I had copied them.

In fact, there was not a single instance of any similarity, just as you might expect since I’d never laid eyes on her book. In her testimony two years later, Tal blamed the doctored and falsified texts on typographical errors made by her lawyers. As for the affidavits she had signed, Tal said that she hadn’t understood the Hebrew, despite holding a master’s degree in Hebrew literature from Tel Aviv University, and had blindly signed whatever papers her lawyers had put before her.

Tal also claimed that no less than two experts had reviewed the books and written reports supporting her claims, but she couldn’t produce the reports, claiming she had lost them when she moved house. Nor could she remember the names of these mysterious experts.

I presented evidence that I had submitted The Ghost of Hannah Mendes, which took me seven years just to research, to my publisher months before Tal self-published her novel with a vanity press in England. One of Tal’s own witnesses (a literary agent) testified that she had read my book in manuscript more than a year before Tal’s book was published. The mutual friend testified she’d never given me a copy of Tal’s book.

I thought at that point that someone would surely put a halt to these farcical proceedings. Wasn’t it obvious this was all a sick, delusional joke? But I was mistaken. We were just at the beginning. There then began a series of endless delaying tactics that made me feel I might have to wait forever for my name to be cleared. Even after the testimony was completed and the court ordered Tal to submit her summation, she and her lawyer never met the deadline, instead filing repeated frivolous motions to which my lawyers had to respond, at times by filing appeals to the Supreme Court.

At one point Tal dismissed her lawyer and asked for time to obtain a new lawyer through Legal Aid. My lawyers told me they suspected that these were all delaying tactics because Tal wanted at all costs to avoid the inevitable loss of her delusional case. Eventually, at the end of 2010 (almost four years after my ordeal began), the first lawyer, Corinaldi, returned, just before Tal died of the illness from which she had been suffering since before filing her case.

The same court that had eagerly issued the ex-parte motions decided to simply expunge the case as though it had never happened, completely indifferent to my pain, years of humiliation and enormous expenses. Worse, the court’s decision left the door open to the heirs to re-file the suit or to demand a “substantial” sum of money to make the case go away! After all I had been through, in the end I was forced to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court.

I have finally received some measure of belated justice, and I would like to believe that I will eventually get some justice in the other cases against me as well.

I have been through an ordeal. But my faith in human and divine goodness and in the beauty of the written word still remains, filling me with new hope and new life. Even if they leave me penniless and without honor, I am grateful for those gifts with which I was born to express myself. Whatever happens, I am comforted that my books will continue to nourish the spirits of those that read them. Without whitewashing the faults or problems that exist in the religious world, I am hopeful that my books will convince those who hate religious people that they are wrong and that the love of God for his people, Israel, is a pure love and the Jewish religion at its most authentic is a beautiful faith to live by.

This was originally published in the Jerusalem Post on 13 January 2012.

Two more points:

  1. My lawyers advised me that Mr. Corinaldi’s tactics might possibly be a violation of the Israel Bar Association’s Code of Ethics. But when I filed a complaint with the Israel Bar Association, this is what happened. So I didn’t bother filing a complaint about this and this.
  2. An objective analysis of the Shapiro case can be found here.

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4 comments on “Bleak House – The Sordid Story of the Michal Tal Case”

  1. Pingback: Writer Ragen Vindicated in Plagiarism Court Deal - Naomi Ragen נעמי רגן - Novelist, Playwright and Journalist

  2. Pingback: Naomi Ragen Wins A Second Plagiarism Suit in the Supreme Court - Naomi Ragen נעמי רגן - Novelist, Playwright and Journalist

  3. Florence Dion

    Dear Naomi Ragen,
    I just finished reading The tenth Song and couldn’t put it down.
    I love the way you write and wanted to know more about you.
    It was just a coincidence that I saw what you went through in your
    own life and can’t imagine how cruel people can be.
    I’m eighty two years old and your books give me great pleasure and insight.
    There’s always more to learn and you are a wonderful teacher.
    I wish you the best and please keep on writing.

  4. Tori Davila

    Mrs. Ragen,

    All of this sounds utterly despicable and I’m surely not alone in expressing my sincerest condolences. You have, from the look of it, been unconscionably victimized by a flawed judicial system that is not worthy of Israel. As to your statement regarding a potential loss of your honor, let me say this. I just finished “The Covenant” and was intensely moved, to tears in fact. The effervescence, kindness, and humanity of that novel cannot be counterfeited. Remember that lies and malicious allegations can never bring you dishonor in the eyes of those that have read and contemplated the meaning of your beautiful works. May God bless you and your family.

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