Belgian Jewish group wins appeal on libel ruling


(JTA) — A Brussels appeals court overturned a 2009 ruling that said a Jewish activist and group had libeled Belgian politician Andre Flahaut.

The Brussels Appeals Court in its ruling Tuesday said the lawsuit filed six years ago by Flahaut, currently the president of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives, was unfounded. Flahaut had sued the CCOJB umbrella group for French-speaking Belgian Jews and its then president, Joel Rubinfeld, for warning that Flahaut’s statements on Israel and Nazism may encourage anti-Semitism.

In the lawsuit, Flahaut claimed Rubinfeld, who now heads the Belgian League against Anti-Semitism, or LBCA, called him an anti-Semite. Rubinfeld insisted he had accused Flahaut merely of making statements “which can encourage anti-Semitism.”

The appeals court agreed that Rubinfeld had never accused Flahaut personally of being an anti-Semite.

Flahaut, a former defense minister, made the statements in question at an anti-Israel demonstration in Nivelles in 2008, where the senior socialist politician was filmed saying, “I’m determined to fight all extremism, all Nazism, all fascism wherever, whenever they occur. That’s why I’m here.”

The rally also included a staged repression of Palestinians by people dressed like Israeli soldiers.

Flahaut also accused Rubinfeld of doctoring a video showing his address at Nivelles, thereby “damaging his honor and good name.” While a lower court ruled in favor of Flahaut, the appeals court confirmed Rubinfeld’s testimony that he had not edited the video in any disingenuous manner.

“With its ruling, the appeals court has created jurisprudence that obliges politicians to think twice before they equate Israel with Nazism and other statements that encourage violent and non-violent anti-Semitism growing in Belgium and Western Europe,” Rubinfeld told JTA.

In 2011, Rubinfeld resigned from the CCOJB board in protest of the organization’s decision to invite Flahaut to attend a gala even as the parties were fighting in court.

Rubinfeld’s successor as CCOJB president, Maurice Sosnowski, said he supported signing a compromise with Flahaut to have him drop his lawsuit against CCOJB, but Rubinfeld’s objection made it impossible.

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