Verdict in Sensational Libel Trial in Israel Provokes Uproar

A sensational libel trial which lasted for about a year and which has excited the Israel press and public came to an end today following a marathon 10-hour reading by District Court Judge Benjamin Halevi of a summary of the case and a verdict which provoked Acting Attorney General Joseph Kokia to announce that he will appeal to the Supreme Court for a review of the conclusion drawn by the judge.

The principals in the case were Malkiel Gruenwald, a pamphleteer, and Dr. Israel Kastner, former head of the Hungarian Jewish Rescue Committee and currently employed by Kol Israel, the government radio network and “Uj Kelet,” Hungarian language newspaper in Israel. Mr. Gruenwald charged Dr. Kastner, in a pamphlet, with collaboration with the Nazis. The latter complained to the state prosecutor that he had been libelled. The state prosecutor brought the case to court since Dr. Kastner was a government employee, then working for the Ministry of Trade. This made Mr. Gruenwald the defendant, but Dr. Kastner’s only standing in the case was that of a witness.

Judge Halevi’s decision cleared Mr. Gruenwald of the major counts. It held that the defendant had proved: that Dr. Kastner had cooperated with the Nazis; that he had “participated directly in murder and had prepared the ground for the murder of Hungarian Jews,” and had aided the international war criminal S.S. Col. Kurt Becher, Himmler’s deputy in Hungary. As a result of Dr. Kastner’s testimony, the judge said, Col. Becher was acquitted of war crimes charges by the International War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg.

Mr. Gruenwald was found guilty of one count, that he had failed to prove his charge that Dr. Kastner had shared in the loot and ransom taken from Jewish victims by the Nazis. This the court found to be insignificant compared to the counts of which the defendant was cleared, and he was fined one pound. The court also accepted the defense contention that Mr. Gruenwald had performed a public service in exposing the “tragic chapter” of Hungarian Jewish history and had served both the victims and survivors of the Nazi terror. The court than awarded the defense 200 pounds as “symbolic costs.”

The verdict created an uproar in the press which devoted pages to a summary of the lengthy verdict and to a recapitulation of the issues and trial proceedings. The attorney general was attacked in several newspapers for bringing the case to trial in an open court and rejecting a defense motion for a closed trial. The newspapers quoted a statement by Dr. Kastner, after the verdict was rendered, calling the decision a “Dreyfuss condemnation.”

Dr. Kastner said further that because of the danger of contempt of court he could not prove his innocence, but added that he did not need lawyers to prove his innocence. “History and the many Jews saved by me will clear my name and honor,” he insisted. He said he would not appeal the decision, because he was not a direct party to the case, only a witness. However, Mr. Kokia, announcing his decision to appeal, said that Judge Halevi’s conclusions “draw no support from the facts brought before him and which should be legally accepted by him.”

NEXT STORY