January 18, 2000
Volume 52, No. 17
Lipstadt suit goes to British court
Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies, began this semester in England, defending her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, against charges of libel from one its subjects.
David Irving, a British historian whose views have often landed him in the press--and in court--has sued Penguin Books, which published Lipstadt's book in the United Kingdom in 1995, on the grounds that it unfairly paints him as a "Holocaust denier" and someone who attempts to dispel widely held beliefs about the systematic extermination of 6 million Jews by the Germans during World War II. Irving has not specified a damage amount in the suit, which he filed in 1996.
"Deborah Lipstadt is one of Emory's most outstanding and respected teachers and scholars," the University said in an official statement. "We have the highest regard for her work, and she has our full support."
The suit got under way Jan. 10 and is expected to last three months. It is being heard by a single judge in Britain's High Court, without a jury. Unlike American libel law, in England the burden of proof in a libel case rests with the publisher--it is up to Penguin and Lipstadt to prove the assertions in her book are true.
"There are some major ones," said law Dean Woody Hunter of the differences between the two countries' libel laws. He added that it is relatively common for libel suits to be brought forward in England when they would not reach trial in the United States. "British libel law is probably the most stringent and protective of plaintiffs in the world. If you're looking for a place to sue, that would be it."
Lipstadt's defense is being led by prominent attorneys Richard Rampton and Anthony Julius, who handled Princess Diana's divorce.
Anthony Forbes Watson, Penguin's managing director, said Irving's claims are "nonsense" and that he regrets Irving has chosen to take his case to court rather than refute Lipstadt's arguments through academic channels. "Penguin has a history of upholding freedom of speech for itself and its authors," Watson said. "We will vigorously defend [against] David Irving's claim and look forward to the courts vindicating our right to publish this important work."
Lipstadt is the director of Emory's new Institute for Jewish Studies. Denying the Holocaust has been published in several countries and won the 1994 National Jewish Book Honor Award. In 1994, Lipstadt was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, and she served as a historial consultant to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. She has testified before Congress and in November 1996 was appointed by the secretary of state to the newly formed Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad.
Irving, who has been described by the British press as a "Germanophile," has been fined several times and barred from even entering the countries of Germany, Italy, Austria, Canada and Australia because of his books about the Nazi Third Reich. His 1979 Hitler's War claimed that the diary of Anne Frank is a forgery-for which the book's German publisher apologized and paid compensation to Frank's family-and in the foreword to another book he wrote that British intelligence had spread "the propaganda story that the Germans were using 'gas chambers' to kill millions of Jews and other Undesirables."