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New Zealand, Sunday, August 8, 2004


Sticks and stones - Debate over David Irving's visit

Historian 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.

Still active!International 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 history".

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 experience".

He declines to call it an international Jewish conspiracy, saying only that international Jewish organisations "have networked very effectively".

Irving has not always resorted to euphemisms. The famous 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 Auschwitz.

"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 Liars, A-S-S-H-O-L-E-S.

"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.

New 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 Holocaust".

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 objectionable."

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 Jewish people.

"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 New Zealand."


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 account.

"But I don't think they are capable of bringing him to account in an hour or two over a lunchtime session."

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 1970s.

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 disaster."

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 weaker".

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 Zealand.

"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 discretion."

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 other country.

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 entry".

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 state.

"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 exercise favour."

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 ethnicity.

"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 those views."

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.

Irving's ability 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 Star-Times.

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 didn't come."



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