June 04, 2005

The Jews defamed?

Consider this first paragraph of an article in today's Guardian headed "Le Monde editor 'defamed Jews'."
A French appeal court has found the editor-in-chief of Le Monde and the authors of an opinion piece in the paper guilty of "racial defamation" against Israel and the Jewish people.
Now since most of the paragraph is not in quotes it's hard to know what the actual ruling is saying. It's certainly possible to "racially defame" the Jews for example, if we take racial to mean pertaining to an identity group based largely on descent. But how does one racially. defame Israel or indeed any other state or institution?
The French umbrella group for Jewish associations, CRIF, said it "noted with satisfaction" the appeal court ruling, adding that the verdict "clearly set limits on a deviation that consists of incriminating 'the Jews' in the name of a criticism of Israel".

The group added: "We have always considered that criticism of Israeli policy falls under the category of the free and democratic exchange of ideas, but that debate cannot express itself as a demonisation of Israel nor of the Jews."
But demonisation, if harsh criticism can be so described, of Israel is not the same as demonisation of the Jews. So what is this ruling saying? For CRIF (the French equivalent of the British Board of Deputies) it's protecting Israel, not just Jews in general.

It should be noted here that one of the people responsible for the article is himself Jewish and his lawyer is not pessimistic about what the ruling means for future criticism of Israel:
Georges Kiejman, who defended Mr Morin (who is Jewish), said he did not think the decision would prevent free and frank debate on the Middle East question in France.

"The court made plain that it found the text as a whole constituted a very potent critique, but a perfectly tolerable one given the complexity of the situation," he said. "It was just those two passages that were picked out. All it means is people are going to have to re-read their copy a bit more carefully; be very careful not to talk about 'the Jews', for example, but about 'some Israelis'."
It should further be noted that the court only awarded the two complainant organisations (the France-Israel Association and Lawyers Without Borders) one euro between them.

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