London, April 14, 2000
Rejoice (with caution)
FROM the moment, almost three months ago to the day, that David Irving opened his libel case against American academic Deborah Lipstadt, this newspaper has probably followed the case more closely than any other in Britain -- and as objectively as any, with the dubious accolade that even Mr Irving singled out our coverage as comprehensive and fair. Yet there was nonetheless an inevitable, surging sense of relief, then joy, as the verdict and judgment of Mr Justice Gray emerged on Tuesday morning. This is not only because most (though not all) of the newspaper's staff are Jewish.
This case, and the issues it raises, have far wider implications. It is perhaps because the JC has had more reason than most papers to cover Mr Irving over the years, and more occasion than most to get a sense of who he is and what he stands for. And Mr Justice Gray -- in an opinion refreshingly, indeed astonishingly, straightforward in both its phrasing and conclusions -- had distilled from the hours of courtroom tension, the mountain of evidentiary submissions, and from the sometimes masterful attempts by Mr Irving to muddle the core issues at stake, a perfect measure of the man.
David Irving, he ruled, is a racist; anti-Semitic; a Holocaust-denier who has picked and chosen and in some cases misrepresented evidence to support his own bigoted view of the Nazis' murder of European Jewry. The prince of pseudo-historians of the Holocaust had, of his own volition, sued an American academic for having written a book that portrayed him for what he is. And he had lost. Still, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that the comprehensive victory of Deborah Lipstadt over David Irving, of truth over doublespeak, was inevitable.
A number of factors helped to ensure it: the fact that she was so well represented in court; the fact that Irving (only a fool has himself for a lawyer, as the maxim goes) was not; the fact that, by mutual consent, the case was heard not by a jury but by a judge; and that the judge in question proved so committed to, and capable of, getting at the core issues. Had the verdict gone the other way -- or, the more likely alternative perhaps, had the judgment been more equivocal, less tightly argued -- it is not at all clear that a man of David Irving's acrobatic sense of interpretation could not somehow have peddled the result as a victory. The fact is that the truth of the Holocaust should not be a matter for a court of law.
Merely to suggest that the reality of the Nazis' murder campaign -- painstakingly. and painfully, recounted by those who survived -- is somehow open to debate is obscene. It risks giving credibility to a lie that, intellectually, is on a par with insisting the earth is flat. In this case, perversely, it was the denier who brought the matter to trial -- to his peril. But those who argue for a law in Britain to proscribe Holocaust-denial, something this newspaper has long opposed for a variety of reasons, would do well, amid the widespread rejoicing at the outcome of the Irving trial, briefly to recall the equally strong sense of foreboding that, for many, will have preceded the verdict: the inevitable concern that, for whatever reason, the truth might not have won out; the haunting sense of "what if."
London, April 14, 2000