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U.K. Courts Reject Holocaust Libel Suit
Jean Richardson -- 4/17/00

After a 32-day hearing in London's High Court, a British judge has ruled in favor of American academic Deborah E. Lipstadt and her British publisher, Penguin Books, dismissing a libel suit filed against them by David Irving. Irving, a controversial World War II historian, charged Lipstadt with libel when she called him a "dangerous" Holocaust denier in her book Denying the Holocaust. In announcing the ruling, Justice Charles Gray ech d Lipstadt's charges and called Irving an "anti-Semite," "a racist" and an "active Holocaust denier" whose misrepresentation of historical evidence about the Holocaust was "perverse and egregious."

With the ruling, Irving's reputation as a historian is now in shreds, and he is liable for the legal costs of Lipstadt and Penguin, estimated to be more than $3 million. There are reports that far right-wing backers of Irving will likely pay the legal costs for him. Irving called the judgment "indescribable and perverse" and is planning to challenge it in the Court of Appeal.

The judgment marked the end of a libel case that is set to make legal history and has repercussions far beyond publishing. Although one of the defendants was American, the case took place in Britain because Irving would have no case in the U.S., where the First Amendment protects Lipstadt's statements as free speech. In filing suit against Lipstadt, Irving charged that her accusations scared off his U.S. publishers, generated "waves of hatred" against him and made it impossible for him to earn a living as a writer.

Irving--perhaps to save money but also to emphasize his view of himself as a maligned figure--conducted his own case, portraying himself as the victim of an international hate campaign that has resulted in him being banned from Germany, Australia and Canada and shunned by publishers. He saw the case as not about the facts of the Holocaust, but about his own freedom of speech and rescuing his "honesty and integrity as a chronicler."

However, lawyers for Lipstadt and Penguin revealed a man who shamelessly misquoted, misrepresented and mistranslated historical sources to exonerate Hitler and the Nazis, a man who associated with extreme right-wing, pro-Nazi groups and who shared many of their racist and anti-Semitic prejudices.

In some of his more chilling comments in court, Irving was reported to have said, "More women died on the backseat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber at Auschwitz." He referred to eyewitnesses of the gas chambers as "an association of Auschwitz survivors and other liars. It was this kind of insensitivity, as much as the parade of scholars who denounced his distortions of history, that led to the court's ruling. According to Justice Gray, Irving "repeatedly crossed the divide between legitimate criticism and prejudiced vilification."

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