New Zealand, Sunday, August 8, 2004
and stones - Debate over David Irving's
David Irving is a racist, an anti-Semite and a
Holocaust denier, a British High Court judge found
in 2000. Civil libertarians say he should still be
allowed to come and speak in New Zealand.
Anthony Hubbard reports.
DAVID Irving (right) is the acid
test for supporters of free speech. His tone when
speaking about Jewish concerns is one of casual -
sometimes not so casual - contempt. He says the
Holocaust is a "boring" subject.
Jewish organisations have carried out a global
vendetta against him. Now the vendetta has
spread to New Zealand.
Nobody would be happier than he, Irving told the
Sunday Star-Times from Florida, "if they
(New Zealand Jews) retreated behind a wall and
sucked their thumbs until after I'd gone. My
listeners would be happier and they wouldn't have
any cause to be affronted. But I think they desire
to be affronted. They don't want to confront real
When the campaign started years ago, "I was very
shocked - I had no idea where it was coming from.
Now I see the shit coming at me from every corner
of the globe and it's a very interesting
He declines to call it an international Jewish
conspiracy, saying only that international Jewish
organisations "have networked very
Irving has not always resorted to euphemisms.
court case in 2000 - when Irving unsuccessfully
sued Penguin Books and the Jewish scholar
Deborah Lipstadt for libel - revealed a much
more forthright tone. Justice Gray was told,
for example, about a speech by Irving in Milton
Ontario on October 5, 1991.
Irving said then that ridicule alone wasn't
enough to expose the lies told in supposed
eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust.
"You've got to be tasteless about it," he said.
"You've got to say things like more women died on
the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at
Chappaquiddick than in the gas chambers at
"Now you think that's tasteless, what
about this? I'm forming an association
especially dedicated to all these liars, the
ones who try and kid people they were in these
concentration camps, it's called the Auschwitz
Survivors, Survivors of the Holocaust and Other
"Can't get more tasteless than that, but
you've got to be tasteless because these people
deserve our contempt."
Gray found on the basis of this and many other
statements by Irving that the historian was in fact
anti-Semitic. He had said, for example, that Jews
deserved to be disliked, they had brought the
Holocaust on themselves, Jewish financiers were
crooked, Jews generated anti-Semitism by their
greed and mendacity, Jews were amongst the scum of
humanity, and Jews scurried and hid furtively,
unable to stand the light of day.
The judge also found Irving was a Holocaust
denier and that he had distorted and misrepresented
evidence in order to exonerate Hitler and to
portray him as sympathetic towards the Jews.
Zealand Jewish Council chair David Zwartz
says Irving should be kept out.
The visit of a Holocaust denier "is a direct
affront to anybody who was either involved in the
Holocaust themselves, as some New Zealanders were,
or to other people like myself who had family
members who were killed as a result of the
Irving's freedom of speech is not New Zealand's
concern, Zwartz says. And New Zealanders are not
prevented from learning what Irving had to say.
"They can buy his books - he has a lot of
cassettes and videos that he sells and his website
is available to everyone. It's not that his
opinions and views are shut out of New Zealand. But
his personal presence is particularly
There is "a set of very sensible restraints on
freedom of expression" in the law. Certain sorts of
pornography are banned and the Human Rights Act
outlaws incitement to hatred or ill will on the
grounds of race.
"Freedom of expression is hedged around
in areas where society believes it is important
to protect people.
"We have this proposal to put firewalls in
all schools to enable them to screen out
objectionable (internet) material. In the case
of the firewalls it is protecting children. And
in the case of Irving not coming to the country
it's protecting the Jewish community."
To people directly connected to the Holocaust,
Zwartz says, Irving's views about the Holocaust
amount to incitement to hatred on the basis of
race. Irving's visit would be a direct threat to
"What he says, whether it is overt or covert, is
destructive to the Jewish community and we feel
we've seen enough of an increase in anti-Semitism
in other countries not to want that to happen in
ZWARTZ does not believe that in the open contest of
ideas, people like Irving will inevitably lose. The
National Press Club, which invited Irving to speak
in Wellington, said it wanted to call Irving to
"But I don't think they are capable of bringing
him to account in an hour or two over a lunchtime
In the Lipstadt trial, it had taken months of
evidence by immensely
erudite witnesses to expose Irving. Most people
did not have the kind of knowledge required in
order to be able to see through him.
In America, the Jewish lawyer Aryeh Neier
led the American Civil Liberties Union case to
allow Nazis to march through the mainly Jewish
neighbourhood of Skokie, Illinois, in the late
Neier was born in Berlin and escaped with his
parents from Germany in 1939. Many of his relations
died in the Holocaust. "The chances are best for
preventing a repetition of the Holocaust in a
society where every incursion on freedom is
resisted," he wrote in his 1979 book, Defending
My Enemy. "Freedom has its risks. Suppression
of freedom, I believe, is a sure prescription for
Zwartz argues the situation in the United States
is different. "The Jewish community in the United
States is well organised and able to muster
resources to fight its battles in the marketplace
of ideas and to counter ideas."
The New Zealand Jewish community's ability to
counter Irving, and society and the news media's
acceptance of what the community is doing, "is much
Michael Bott, chairperson of the New
Zealand Council for Civil Liberties, says he
"passionately disagrees" with Irving's views - but
Irving should still be allowed to come to New
"We have such a thing as freedom of speech and
our society is mature and robust enough to be able
to listen to someone like David Irving and make an
intelligent response to him. New Zealanders should
be given the opportunity to exercise that
Banning the historian is a restriction on New
Zealanders' rights under the Bill of Rights Act "to
seek or receive information and opinions of any
kind in any form".
Bott also objects to the section of the
Immigration Act that automatically bars from New
Zealand any person who has been deported from any
Such a person can ask for a "special direction"
from the Immigration Service or minister to remove
the bar - but Prime Minister Helen Clark
said last week she "would be astonished if the
minister made a positive step to allow him
Bott says the law is far too sweeping. It could
effectively ban from New Zealand a democratic
campaigner who had been deported from a police
"Take for instance Nelson Mandela - say
he goes to visit Myanmar and they say, 'Oh gosh,
get out of here, you liberal, we don't want you'.
So they deport him and that could mean he's no
longer able to gain entry to New Zealand.
"Further, if a television journalist was denied
entry or deported from Fiji, does that mean he
can't go to Canada any more? There are many
examples of bizarre cases like that."
Clark has made "these radical pronouncements
that she's not prepared to allow this man into the
country and that therefore he's persona non grata.
The great worry with that is it's shades of the
Muldoon years - he would make official
pronouncements on high".
Immigration Service market manager Arron
Baker says the law allowing a special direction
means that "rational decisions can be made" about
those deported from other countries.
But Bott says the law over deportations is
unreasonable. It means the decision to ban is taken
before the circumstances of the deportation from
another country are even considered. What should
happen, he argues, is that deportations are
notified and then a proper consideration is made of
the individual case.
AUCKLAND University law professor Bill Hodge
says the deportation law is a blunt instrument that
leaves too much power in the hands of politicians.
"It's ideal for the minister who can say, 'Oh no,
it's not me, I had nothing to do with this, it's
just the automatic operation of the statute'.
So it's arm's-length isolation; it's a barrier
from ministerial responsibility until such time as
it's convenient and politically advantageous to
Bott says it's "drawing a long bow" to claim
that Irving, by preaching his views, in effect
broke the law. Section 63 of the Human Rights Act
forbids the use of language that "expresses
hostility or brings into contempt or ridicule"
another person on the grounds of race or
"Now Mr Irving may be a Holocaust denier," says
Bott, "but I'm not aware of him actually standing
up and inciting racial hatred. He comes from a
dubious fringe form of scholarship known as
Holocaust revisionism or denial that's not
seriously accepted by the majority of credible
scholars. Nevertheless he has the right to hold
The ban on Irving's entry is a significant
restriction on New Zealanders' freedom, Bott says.
They have been deprived of the right to go and hear
Irving and debate with him face to face.
to overturn a decision is
limited, says immigration
lawyer John Petris. Under the Immigration
Act, an official or a minister does not have to
give any reason for refusing to grant a "special
direction" allowing him in. They do not even
have to consider the matter before refusing.
"It's a purely discretionary power," he says.
"These discretions are generally - and especially
in the immigration field - very difficult to
challenge in court."
There were no stated rules governing the
decision and no prescribed criteria on which to
base a challenge.
It seems, in fact, that Irving is unlikely to
ask for a special direction for this very reason.
He has not so far done so, he told the Sunday
He has a non-refundable ticket to New Zealand
and "if I can't come down to New Zealand then I'm
stranded in California . . . and I shall stay in a
free country - because I will then regard New
Zealand as no longer a free country." It seems
likely that Irving will show up for his flight in
Los Angeles in order to make a political point when
he is prevented from boarding.
Green MP Keith Locke, the sole
parliamentarian to have come out in favour of
Irving's entry, admits to "contradictory feelings"
about the case. "Free speech is tested most," he
says, "when you're talking about people who you
strongly disagree with."
In this case, Irving's entry would offend Jewish
New Zealanders who lost family members in the
Holocaust. That would not be a pleasant outcome,
says Locke. "In a sense I would prefer that he
attempts by New Zealand Jews to stop David
Irving's 2004 visit
Answers to frequently asked questions about Mr
Sedley writes a letter on Mr Irving and free
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