A libel case brought by the chairman of the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), Gideon Falter, against the Israeli-born jazz musician Gilad Atzmon, will now go ahead after a High Court judge ruled against Mr Atzmon in much of his defence argument.
Mr Atzmon, who describes himself as a musician and “writer on Jewish identity politics”, runs a blog on which he regularly posts material which frequently relates to anti-Zionism or anti-Semitism.
In July last year Mr Atzmon posted an attack on Mr Falter on his site in an article entitled “Anti-Semitism is merely a business plan”. This was accompanied by a reproduction of the CAA’ s logo with the words “Business Plan” written on the logo.
Among other things, Mr Atzmon said that Mr Falter dishonestly fabricated anti-Semitic incidents — and that he had deliberately exaggerated the prevalence of such incidents, with the motivation of obtaining money for the CAA and his own income.
On Tuesday, in front of Mr Justice Nicklin, barristers for Mr Falter and Mr Atzmon argued about the meaning of the allegations made by Mr Atzmon in his article. His defence largely rests on declaring that the words complained of did not have the meaning which Mr Falter claimed — and were thus not libellous.
Part of the hearing focused on another aspect of Mr Atzmon’s defence — an embedded link in his article, which led to an interview Mr Falter gave to Sky News. In the interview Mr Falter spoke of differences of opinion with the Crown Prosecution Service about the level of anti-Jewish hate crime in Britain, and the CPS’s apparent reluctance to bring cases.
Mr Atzmon wrote: “Falter and the CAA obviously fabricate anti-Semitic incidents. Falter interprets condemnation of Israel and Jewish politics as ‘hate crimes’. It seems the CPS doesn’t buy Falter’s duplicitous claims”.
Appearing for Mr Atzmon, who was on tour in Los Angeles, barrister Adam Wolanski argued: “Do [these words] allege that Mr Falter has manufactured incidents which never occurred at all? Or do they mean, as we say, that he essentially massaged the figures?”
Mr Wolanski said that Mr Falter was “so wedded to his cause” that he was prepared to “put a spin” on the issues. “At the heart of this, Mr Falter’s beef is with the CPS for not prosecuting more cases”, and for this reason, he said, it was important that the contents of the Sky news interview were included in evidence in order to show context.
But Mr Justice Nicklin said that there were two direct references in the article to allege that Mr Falter personally profited from anti-Semitism. And he picked out three verbs used in Mr Atzmon’s article — “manufacture, invent, fabricate”.
Speaking for Mr Falter, barrister William Bennett (who successfully represented the blogger Jack Monroe in her libel case against Katie Hopkins), said: “There is no obscurity, no irony here” — both arguments advanced by Mr Wolanski — “it is an anti-Semitic rant, which does what it says on the tin and accuses Mr Falter and the CAA of having a business plan”. Mr Atzmon, he said, accused Falter of “inventing anti-Semitism to serve their own ends”.
Giving his ruling, Judge Nicklin said that he found the meaning of Mr Atzmon’s article to suggest that Mr Falter (the Claimant) “dishonestly fabricated anti-Semitic incidents and has deliberately exaggerated the prevalence of anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic activity (including being too ready to characterise as anti-Semitism, legitimate criticism of Israel)”.
By doing so, the article suggested, “the Claimant risks increasing anti-Semitism” and that Mr Falter’s “motivation” was “to obtain funds (including from British taxpayers) to support the activities of CAA and to provide his own income”.
The judge agreed with Mr Falter’s contention that the article suggested that “the funds obtained by this fabrication and misrepresentation were consequently obtained by the Claimant’s fraud”, and that Mr Atzmon was alleging that “the Claimant is guilty of hypocrisy; he publicly campaigns against anti-Semitism, but he is content with its continued prevalence (even resorting to manufacture of incidents) because his income and that of CAA depends upon it”.
The case continues.