PARIS (Mar. 1)
A French court has slapped a $21,000 fine on a French scholar for minimizing the Holocaust, but stopped short of giving him a prison sentence.
Roger Garaudy, 84, a former Marxist philosopher and politician who converted to Islam, denied the existence of Nazi gas chambers and dismissed claims that 6 million Jews perished under the Nazis in his 1996 book, “The Founding Myths of Israeli Politics.”
Contesting the truth of proven crimes against humanity is illegal in France and can be punished by up to one year in jail and a $60,000 fine. Prosecutors had waived demands for a jail term.
Garaudy, who fought the Nazi occupation of France, also argued in his book that the slaughter of the Jews could be called pogroms or even a massacre, but did not qualify as genocide.
CRIF, the umbrella group of secular French Jewish organizations, applauded the verdict, but said it “did not understand the absence of punishment for the book’s publisher, Vielle Taupe, which publishes extreme-right works.
“The attempt to deny the scale of the genocide of the Jews, which has been recognized by the international community, is an attack on history, memory and morality. It was a repugnant political and ideological manoeuver aimed at delegitimizing the very existence of the State of Israel,” CRIF said in a statement.
When the verdict was handed down last Friday, activists from Betar, a Zionist youth group, stood outside the courtroom, shouting “Nazi” and “Garaudy in Jail.”
Dozens of police held them back when they attempted to assault extreme-right wing personalities — including the notorious French revisionist Robert Faurisson and Henri Fenet, a Frenchman who had fought with the Germans in World War II and was a member of the SS — as they entered the courtroom.
The Betar activists reportedly attacked four Arab journalists covering the trial, including an Egyptian television journalist who was beaten up as he was taping his broadcast.
Garaudy himself stayed away from the court.
Garaudy’s trial had sparked a powerful wave of support across the Arab world, even in countries that have peace treaties with Israel.
Such support appeared to emanate from two, intertwined fronts: defense of his freedom of expression to question the Holocaust and support for his criticism of Israel and the “Zionist-controlled media.”
Protesting outside the French Cultural Center in the Gaza Strip, 70 Palestinian intellectuals recently held banners proclaiming, “Garaudy, All of Palestine is With You.”
And in the Persian Gulf, the United Arab Emirates daily al-Khaleej published a front-page appeal to its readers to send donations and messages of support to Garaudy.
But nowhere has Garaudy’s star shone more brightly than in Egypt, where he recently visited as guest of Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni to lecture and participate in symposiums at the annual Cairo Book Fair.
Garaudy did not disappoint his Egyptian hosts.
“Under France’s freedom of speech, you can attack President Jacques Chirac or even the pope. But when you criticize Israel, you are lost,” Garaudy told a seminar organized by Egypt’s Ministry of Culture and other professional unions. “This is because the media in the West is 95 percent controlled by the Zionists.”
Some Egyptians accused the West of double standards in trying Garaudy while protecting British author Salman Rushdie, whose novel “The Satanic Verses” prompted Iran’s late leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, to issue a death sentence against him.
In France, CRIF officials denounced the support given Garaudy by the Arab world, saying they were “deeply upset and shocked” by “this anti-Semitic, obscurantist attitude, which can only be an obstacle to reconciliation among peoples.”
A heated controversy over Garaudy’s book swept France in 1996, when Abbot Pierre, a Roman Catholic priest who had helped Jews escape deportation to Nazi death camps, defended the author as an “honest man.”