(JTA) – A French court acquitted the Jewish historian Georges Bensoussan of hate speech charges over his assertion that Arabs receive anti-Semitism with their “mother’s milk.”
The 17th Criminal Tribunal of Paris acquitted Bensoussan on Tuesday, the AFP news agency reported, ending a polarizing trial that observers regarded as a significant test case for determining the boundaries of academic freedom amid growing inter-ethnic tensions.
Bensoussan, a scholar of the Holocaust and one of the world’s leading historians of Jewish communities in Arab territories, was put on trial in December after a Muslim lobby group and a French human rights organization that was founded by Jews in the 1920s initiated a criminal lawsuit against him for a statement made during a 2012 interview.
The reference to mother’s milk was in a paraphrased quote that Bensoussan attributed to Smain Laacher, a non-Jewish French filmmaker whose family came from North Africa. In reality, Laacher had said in an interview that for many Arab families, anti-Semitism is in “the air that one breathes.”
Leading French scholars dismissed the lawsuits against Bensoussan as an attempt at “intimidation.”
In their ruling, the tribunal said the plaintiffs failed to substantiate the hate speech charges and concluded that Bensoussan merely “misspoke” in quoting Laacher without intention to incite hatred, AFP reported.