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Australian paper suspends columnist over slur

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — A London-based columnist who blamed Israel for the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks was suspended by the Australian newspaper that published his article.

Michael Backman’s Jan. 17 column in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper triggered outrage and anger from Australian Jewish leaders who blasted it as “primitive anti-Semitism.”

Paul Ramadge, editor in chief of The Age, informed Jewish leaders this week that Backman’s work was suspended for three months, according to a report in the Australian Jewish News. The suspension will be reviewed after the time is up; reinstatement will not be automatic. Backman’s columns have been published biweekly for a decade. 

Ramadge reportedly told Jewish leaders that the column, which also described Israelis abroad as “rude” and “arrogant,” was “a gross error of judgment.”

The column, titled “Israelis are living high on U.S. expense account,” was withdrawn from the newspaper’s Web site on Jan. 19 following a personal protest to Ramadge by Jewish leaders, some of whom had threatened legal action.

The newspaper issued an apology the following day for the “distress” the column caused to the Jewish community. In his apology, Backman said he believed in Israel’s “absolute right to exist” and denied he was anti-Semitic.

Backman wrote in his column, “We have paid for Israel’s failure with bombs on London public transport, bombs in bars in Bali and even the loss of the World Trade Center towers in New York.”

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