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Jewish News wins legal case that 'threatened to silence allegations of historical anti-Semitism' in Poland

Jewish News has won what it has described as a “landmark legal battle” against a Polish nationalist group after it complained that one of the title’s stories had mischaracterised Poles as Nazis.

Mira Wszelaka, president of the Polish League Against Defamation, took the free weekly newspaper to court in Warsaw over an article published on its website in October 2017, headlined: “Polish restitution law excludes most Holocaust survivors and heirs”.

The article said that most Jews who survived the Holocaust left Poland and that neither they or their children or grandchildren currently live in the country, making it almost impossible for them to make a claim under draft legislation on the return of property confiscated during World War Two.

It contained a statement from the heads of the World Jewish Restitution Organisation who said they were “profoundly disappointed that the Polish government’s proposal excludes the vast majority of Polish Holocaust survivors and their families”.

According to Jewish News, Wszelaka claimed the article implied Poles were responsible for the confiscation of Jewish property and other atrocities against Jews, complaining that the world “German” should have been placed in front of the word “Nazi” to make the distinction clear.

Earlier this month, after what the London-based newspaper called a “bitter 18-month fight”, a judge at Warsaw’s District Court dismissed the claim, saying statements made during proceedings by the claimant had not been proven.

The most recent issue of Jewish News, distributed last Thursday (23 May), splashed by proclaiming: “Case dismissed,” adding that it had won a “landmark legal battle against Polish nationalists”.

Editor-in-chief Richard Ferrer said in a statement: “This is an important ruling not only for Jewish News but all media. The implications for freedom of speech and freedom of the press had we lost would have been catastrophic.

“Our Polish lawyer cited relevant case law from the European Court of Human Rights and other Polish courts in our defence and I’m delighted the judge delivered such resounding vindication of our report.”

Jewish News said the legal win was important because it was one of the first civil cases brought under a new Polish law which criminalises references to Poles’ complicity in the Holocaust.

It said the case had “threatened to silence allegations of historical anti-Semitism” in Poland and the country’s complicity in Nazi crimes.

Simon Johnson, chief executive of UK organisation the Jewish Leadership Council, told the newspaper: “This is an important judicial statement on maintaining freedom of the media.

“Scrutiny by the media may sometimes be inconvenient to those in public life, but a free press is essential to a modern democracy and to the rule of law.

“Jewish News is to be congratulated on fighting  to protect this important principle in Poland.”

Wszelaka was ordered to pay Zloty 1,097 (£224.92) in legal costs to Jewish News and Zloty 4,623.57 (£948) in other expenses, according to a court document.

The Polish League Against Defamation states on its website that its aim is to “initiate and support actions aimed at correcting false information on Poland’s history, in particular World War Two, the role of Poles in the war, Polish people’s attitude to Jews, and German concentration camps”.

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