A Great Moment in Legal History
BY GARY SHAPIRO
May 26, 2005
Emory University Jewish Studies professor Deborah Lipstadt's triumph over Holocaust denier David Irving, who sued her and her publisher for libel in London, is "one of those great moments in legal history when truth, justice, and freedom of speech are all simultaneously served," writes lawyer Alan Dershowitz in the afterward to Ms. Lipstadt's new book, "My Day in Court With David Irving: History on Trial" (Ecco).The book describes the momentous 10-week trial in 2000 under British libel law, which (unlike its American counterpart) places the burden of proof on the defendant. At a celebration held in her honor at the American Jewish Committee this Tuesday, Ms. Lipstadt discussed the case, which stemmed from assertions made in her book "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory" (Free Press).
The event marked a return to New York for Ms. Lipstadt, who grew up on the Upper West Side and Far Rockaway, where her rabbis included Norman Lamm and Emanuel Rackman. AJC Executive Director David Harris, introducing the evening's program, spoke of the effort to raise money for her legal costs: "Good lawyers do not come cheap - in London or in New York." He said: "what was going to be on trial was not Deborah Lipstadt per se but the Holocaust. For generations it would shape the way people view the Holocaust. This was not her battle alone." They asked themselves "what we could do, not only as friends of Deborah but as friends of the truth."
[In discussing the case, Ms. Lipstadt] said an overall challenge was how to fight Holocaust deniers without building them up and turning them into significant people. She said she aimed to show how ridiculous Mr. Irving's arguments were, and did. She spoke of flying to London, experiencing jet lag, shuttling from her unglamorous hotel to the lawyer's office, reading documents, and even sleeping through one of the plays she attended during her stay.
Ms. Lipstadt talked about the book's themes, including the legal and forensic one: "how we managed to fight the battle." She and her legal team did not want it to be a "did-the-Holocaust-happen case." They turned the tables on Mr. Irving by making the case about what a credible historian would have done with the facts before him at the time he was writing.
The book offers insight into the intricacies of the British legal system (with its solicitors and barristers, for example), as well as unexpected incidents, such as when Mr. Irving inadvertently referred to the judge as "mein Fuhrer" instead of "my Lord." Ms. Lipstadt spoke about some tactical decisions in the case, such as going beyond the Holocaust to discuss Churchill and Dresden. The point was to show that even when he was not talking about the Jews, Mr. Irving intentionally distorted facts to show that the Nazis were not so bad. [...]
"The trial that was thrust upon her," AJC expert on anti-Semitism, Kenneth Stern, told The New York Sun, "was an important step in combating anti-Semitism." He said in the book one can learn not only "a profile in courage" but a message about fighting hatred both smartly and courageously.
"Deborah was the most reluctant author I ever published," said Adam Bellow, editor at large at Doubleday, who edited "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory" when he was editorial director at the Free Press. He said she wisely chose not to debate Holocaust deniers or appear on a program with them. "People in the press think of it as the 'other side,'" he said. "But there's truth and there are lies. She ran up against the relativism of the age."
"It's not a question of choosing sides - there's really no other side," said her agent, Gary Morris, who described "History on Trial" as both a legal and personal story. Ms. Lipstadt earlier this year declined to have C-Span cover a talk of hers, since it planned to pair it with coverage of Mr. Irving. Mr. Stern told the Sun, "It's like doing a program on child-rearing and bringing in Michael Jackson as balance. It's nuts."
Ms. Lipstadt thanked Emory University not only for granting her paid leave but also, without her asking, for its president and board allocating funds to help pay her expenses in mounting her defense. She asked the audience to note how rare this kind of university support is: "cold hard cash."
Ms. Lipstadt thanked her current editor at HarperCollins, Julia Serebrinsky, as well as her former one, Mr. Bellow. Mr. Bellow told the Sun how gratifying it was to have worked with Ms. Lipstadt. He said hers was one of a handful of books he has worked on "that have really done good in the world. Most books don't do anything."
Thursday, May 26, 2005
A Great Moment in Legal History - article in N.Y. Sun
Prof. Lipstadt recently addressed participants at an American Jewish Committee celebration held in her honour. The following are some excerpts, from an article describing this event, published in today's (May 26/05) N.Y. Sun: