Irish Jewish leaders defend columnist fired for anti-Semitic references


(JTA) — Leaders of the Irish Jewish community have come to the defense of a columnist who was fired for a column in which he made anti-Semitic references.

The Sunday Times fired columnist Kevin Myers on Sunday, the same day its Irish edition published his column on the BBC’s gender pay gap, in which he noted that two of the BBC’s best-paid female presenters, Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz, are Jewish.

“Good for them. Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price, which is the most useful measure there is of inveterate, lost-with-all-hands stupidity,” Myers wrote.

The column appeared in the newspaper’s Irish edition and online. It was removed from the newspaper’s website and an apology posted in its place. Myers was fired later Sunday.

“Kevin Myers inadvertently stumbled into an anti-Semitic trope,” the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland said in a statement reported by the Irish Times. “Yes, Kevin ought to have known that his bringing the religion of the two BBC presenters into his writings on Sunday would cause concern and upset and that it was both unnecessary and bound to be misunderstood.”

“But the larger picture is that Kevin, who up until now was a respected columnist, has a particular curmudgeonly, cranky, idiosyncratic style. We, who have been reading Kevin’s work over many years and those who know him personally, know that while this was a real error of judgment on his part, also know that he is not an anti-Semite,” the statement also said.

“More than any other Irish journalist he has written columns about details of the Holocaust over the last three decades that would not otherwise have been known by a substantial Irish audience. It would be a shame if Kevin Myers’ voice was lost based on his mistake and other people’s misconceptions about his prior writings.”

Martin Ivens, editor of The Sunday Times, said the comments were unacceptable and should not have been published.

“It has been taken down and we sincerely apologize, both for the remarks and the error of judgment that led to publication,” he said in the apology posted on the Sunday Times website.

Ivens also apologized personally to Winkleman and Feltz for unacceptable references both to Jewish people and to women.

“As the editor of the Ireland edition I take full responsibility for this error of judgment,” Frank Fitzgibbon, editor of The Sunday Times Ireland, said in the printed apology. “This newspaper abhors anti-Semitism and did not intend to cause offense to Jewish people.”

Britain’s Independent Press Standards Organization received at least 25 complaints about the column.

Feltz, one of the women singled out in the column, described it as “vile” and a display of “horrifying racism,” according to the Irish Times.

Gideon Falter of the British Campaign Against Anti-Semitism in the U.K. said the comments made by Myers were an “abuse of free speech.”

Myers has written many controversial columns, including one in which he denied the scope of the Holocaust.

There are more than 2,550 Jews in Ireland, according to the Irish Times.

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