I Defend Professor Steven Plaut Convicted of Libel for “Anti-Semitic” Slur: Academic Freedom Should Be a Universal Right

More Nationalistic Braggadocio Than Fact

From Haaretz: September 6, 2006
U.S.-born professor guilty of libeling colleague

By Ira Moskowitz

“Haifa University economist Steven Plaut was convicted last week of libeling a fellow academic, Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Politics and Government, and ordered to pay the plaintiff NIS 80,000 in compensation plus NIS 15,000 in legal fees. Plaut, who teaches in the Graduate School of Business Administration, has called Gordon a “fanatic anti-Semite” and a “Judenrat wannabe.” Such statements overstep the bounds of free speech and constitute libel, Nazareth Magistrate’s Court Judge Reem Naddaf ruled last week…

“In his affidavit to the court, Gordon noted that he served in the Paratroopers’ and was seriously wounded during a battle at Rosh Hanikra in 1986, leaving him with a 42 percent disability. “This is an important fact because it demonstrates the depth, seriousness and severity of the injury that the defendant has inflicted upon me through his publications,” he says.”
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I had earlier complained of Professor Plaut’s frequent published descriptions of me as an “anti-Semite” and a “rogue” and his unseemly and unprofessional tirade against all DePaul University students who have matriculated in the classes of Assistant Professor Norman G. Finkelstein.

However, I am not in favour of using legal remedies to induce from Mr Plaut a more responsible and professional approach in criticising his ideological opponents. I am not comfortable with the punishment of individuals for engaging in insults. In fact one of the statements of libel regarding the esteemed and heroic scholar, Professor Neve Gordon, was not written by Professor Plaut but sent by him, albeit in solidarity with the hurtful charge of being a Jewish supporter of Hamas. I think there should be in Israel, where the conviction occurred and is under appeal, a firewall between libelous remarks that insult and demean and a knowingly false accusation of moral turpitude or a knowingly false accusation of criminal activity. I am very reluctant to endorse the punishment of Professor Plaut for describing in a publication a colleague, with at least one of the same lies he has repeatedly used against me. I would not even contemplate, at this point anyway, suing him for libel and am content in using other means to register my disappointment that my views on David Irving’s free speech rights, Israel’s imposition of apartheid and rogue-nuclear state status would be used to attack me for racialism and prejudice. Mr Plaut should know that efforts at intimidation in order to silence speech is the antithesis of what an academician should be engaged in.

Professor Plaut chooses to use highly strident language which is offensive. I have also done so on occasion as many of us have. I think free speech, whether an e-mail sent to a cadet to protest mass murder in war or slurring a colleague, should be protected whether utilising the guarantees of the First Amendment or another nation’s constitutional processes. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in an opinion: “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” Let ideas be subject to popular examination and over time truth shall prevail. I think professors, regardless of their nationality or country of employment, should only under the most extraordinary and extreme circumstances, be punished or sanctioned for speech. I do think it ironic that Professor Plaut on his blog–which by the way contains a comment comparing me to David Duke–has encouraged his visitors to contact my university to complain about my defence of another historian’s right of free speech:

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

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