Protecting My Name From Libelous Journalism

Today, to my dismay, I found myself slandered (libeled really) by a blogger/journalist named Ami Isseroff. Mr. Isseroff runs a number of sites dealing with Israel, Zionism and Palestine. In his introduction to my recent interview with Joel Schalit, Mr. Isseroff wrote “Roi Ben Yehuda lives in Spain. He last concocted a fable about anti-Semitism in Spain, which cannot be verified by people living there.”

When I read those lines I was incredulous. My eyes did a double take. Did he really write this? Claiming that a journalist concocted a fable in a major newspaper is a serious charge. In fact it is the worst charge you can throw at journalist: It is like accusing a priest of spending a little too much time with the alter boys 🙂 I wondered what evidence Mr. Isseroff was basing his claim that I fabricated the whole thing? Who were these people who could not verify my story? And since when can the absence of evidence be sufficient warrant to make a positive claim?

The article that Mr. Isseroff was alluding to was my Haaretz piece entitled Epiphany in A Spanish Neo-Nazi Bookstore. In the piece, I tell of my surprising (and eventually ennobling) experience of encountering signs of Anti Semitism in Barcelona. These included Swastikas (both pro-and anti) which are readily used as part of the city’s culture of political graffiti and a lively experience in a Neo-Nazi bookstore. (Here are recent pictures I took of some Swastikas carvings in Barcelona [I have plenty more]. The latter was in IKEA’s parking garage. I think they are going to need a bigger sign to cover that one up) 🙂

Not wanting to let Mr. Isseroff statement slide, I contacted Haaretz who straight-away asked Mr. Isseroff to respond to his outlandish and libelous claim. Within a short time, Mr. Isseroff altered his introduction to read:

Roi Ben Yehuda is an Israeli, or ex-Israeli, who lives in Spain and writes frequently for Ha’aretz. He previously (see ‘Epiphany in a Spanish neo-Nazi bookstore,’ Haaretz June 15, 2008) alleged that a Neo-Nazi Book shop is selling anti-Semitic materials in Barcelona, a claim made by no-one else to my knowledge, and an assertion that cannot be verified by a friend living there. She notes that the sale of such materials is forbidden by Spanish law. Roi’s story about Nazi bookstores in Spain is therefore dubious, to say the least.

Hmm. Lets look at the logic: Mr. Isseroff never heard of this store. This, for some reason, makes him suspicious. But ever the careful journalist, he decides to call a friend who lives in Barcelona who claimed she could not verify its existence (he later explained to me that his friend does not live in Barcelona but near Barcelona). She further claims that such a store would be impossible because “the sale of such materials is forbidden by Spanish law”. Aha! Mr. Isseroff comes to the conclusion, “Roi’s story about Nazi bookstores in Spain is therefore dubious, to say the least.” Wow Mr. Isseroff, that is some great investigatory journalism. You seemed to have uncovered the Jewish Jayson Blair. Bravo!

But there is just one problem. The store is alive & well. Your “friend” can easily verify the claim by going over and visiting the store. She can also read about the store in (Spanish) Wiki. It is located at la calle Séneca número 12 in Barcelona.

But isn’t the existence of such a store against the law? After all, Mr. Isseroff’s friend said so. Nope. It is true that in 1996 Spain had reformed its legal code in order to criminalize Holocaust denial, but when they actually tried to implement the new law (by arresting and trying Pedro Varela the owner of the neo-Nazi bookstore), the Constitutional Court ruled that Pedro Varela has the constitutional freedom to publish material that deny or justify the Holocaust. You can read about it (in Spanish) here.

But you want to see the store and its Nazi material with your eyes, right? Well here you go. Enjoy.

Ok. Enough with the Spanish. You want something in English. Well, how about something from David Duke (the infamous anti-Semite and Holocaust revisionist). After all, as you should know, he is a good friend of the owner of the “alleged” store (here they are together holding some Jew-friendly literature).

Here he is writing about his friend being arrested in Spain (remember, his conviction was deemed unconstitutional and overturned). Here is a video of the two of them together (If you wait a little the video will turn to english.) At the end of the video Duke talks about all his support in Madrid and Barcelona.

So Mr. Isseroff, you can no longer claim ignorance nor can you rely on your friend’s ignorance. This store exists, it sells vile materials, it has support, and it is legal. I hope that next time you act with more sagacity and prudence before you make baseless and ignorant allegations against someone. You had the courage to throw at me the worst charge a journalist can face, lets see if you also have the courage to admit when you are wrong.

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16 responses to “Protecting My Name From Libelous Journalism

  1. Roi, bravo.
    Let us know if Mr. Isseroff in fact has the courage to apologize to you in public!

  2. Wow..some people think they can say Anything and the sad, and even more so, scary thing is that on a blog page people do fabricate the truth as they believe it and in so doing influencing other uneducated minds to believe as well. It’s good that you found it and rebuked it right away. I have had people request my friendship on my peace page just to find out they wanted to use it as a forum to spread horrible untrue things and when I say Horrible, I mean Ugly Horrible things. Sending good energy so keep up the good fight!!

  3. Good Luck in fighting those stupid people!

    Let us know his response.
    However problem is that you give him a audience ( yours) to listen to.
    He does not deserve it.

  4. I live in BCN, I have seen this bookstore and the graffitis of swastikas and anti swastikas in the streets (in large quantity in my neighborhood Gracia, in less quantity in many other places as Eixample, Born and Badalona.

    Vivo en Barcelona. Veo Swastikas y anti Swastikas en mi barrio (Gracia), en Eixample,en el Born y hasta al lado de Ikea en Badalona! En mi barrio puedo asegurar que si estan en casi cada manzana. Es un barrio muy activo y de libre expresion. La cultura del graffiti es gran parte de esa libre expresion. El gobierno los borra en le mismo dia y vuelven a aparecer al dia siguiente!
    Por supuesto que si un turista viene a Barcelona y camina los lugares turisticos no resalten a su vista, hay millones de otras cosas que lo haran primero: la arquitectura, la gente, la cultura en las calles.
    Negar que existe antisemitismo en el trabajo, o vida social es una cosa, negar la existencia de estos graffitis es negar una realidad.

  5. I’m confused. I googled this guy Ami Isseroff and it appears that he’s Jewish, he lives in Israel, and he’s the director of something called MidEast Web for Coexistence.

    What’s his deal? How did the stick get into the ass?

    I seriously doubt you’ll hear from him. You gave him a pretty swift kick in the nuts with this post.

  6. I did hear from him via email. he is pretty much sticking to his original position – even though he has revised his account to focus on the Swastika issue and less on the store. Unfortunately, he does not have the courage to admit when he is so clearly wrong. You can read his updated (and equally ridiculous) account on his website. Oh well, I guess this comes with the territory. I brush it off and move on.

  7. supporting Roi :)

    Bravo. Roi has HUEVOS!!!!!!!!!

  8. I happen to live in Barcelona and I happen to know Mr. Isseroff work for peace in Middle East. Before judging Mr. Isseroff would be very good that everybody goes to http://www.mideastweb.org and read his thorough and nuanced opinions about the conflict. Mr. Isseroff is a zionist and thinks that the jews must live in Israel. The discussion between you and him goes far beyond the issue “nazis in Barcelona” and embraces the core of the Zionism. It would be much productive for both and your audiences that you discuss this and forget about bookstores, nazis and Barcelona. However, since I have nothing clever to say about where Jews must live, I will comment about the latter

    I must say for starting that I am not his source since I already knew about the existence of this bookstore (at this very moment I am 3 bloks away from it). But then, I also must say that -once I have read your article- I think that the expresion “concocted a fable” is not so far fetched as your indignation can induce to think.

    Europa is not A nazi bookstore but THE one and only nazi bookstore. It has become a bookstore forced by the law since in the begining was the headqarters of a nazi organization called CEDADE that was legal in Franco times. To make a long story short, for 30 years -since democracy arrived to Spain- this organization has been prosecuted in all possible ways. Those who speak Spanish can go to wikipedia and take a look to the tribulations of the owner who has visited prison, has seen thousands of books confiscated and the bookstore closed by police more than once. The Anne Frank inscription on the floor is part of a plan of the Barcelona townhall to change the name of the street to this name.

    Your article, to be “journalistic” and to entitle you to your current indignation, should have spoken about the opposition of the people, the townhall and nearly everybody in Barcelona against this bookstore, and how the tenacity and legal preparation of the owner has managed to maintain it open against all odds. To speak about the bookstore and the svasticas in the way you did, insinuating tolerance towards nazis was not to describe reality fairly.

    I think that you have a thesis that is that Diaspora is very good for moral rearming of Jews and you wanted to show a practical case of this. As I said, I am not going to state opinions about the underlying issue (“should all the jews live in Israel?”). What I am going to ask you is to not simulate that you are living in a pro-nazi city to construct moral tales. If you want to describe the city, do it objectively. If you want to describe your feelings about abandoning Israel, feel free to say whatever but without slandering third parties.

  9. Roman is write to point out that the basis for Isseroff’s attack on Ben Yehuda is ideological. Barcelona and Nazism are tangential to his actual motivation in attacking the author. However, Roman, you’re dead wrong about Ben Yehuda’s Barcelona article. Its a classic, first person narrative about feeling shocked, as a Jew, to be in the presence of so much Nazi culture. As a European, you should know better than to chastise a Jew for being sensitive about such things, and furthermore, still back up Isseroff’s criticisms of Ben Yehuda for not being a good Zionist.

    What Ami Isseroff did that was wrong was to wrongly accuse the author of lying about his own experience, in order to make a separate ideological point. Isseroff should have more simply gotten to his actual point, rather than indulging in what amounts to a fabrication himself. That would have been a more worthwhile endeavor, because it would have emphasized his ideological differences with Roi Ben Yehuda. The fact that Isseroff did not do that is what is unethical here. To criticize the author, or Haaretz, for publishing this kind of work, or Ben Yehuda, for that matter, is irrelevant.

    What Isseroff has done here, as a citizen journalist, (not a professional one) is to successfully draw attention to his work, by behaving so irrationally, by lying, and most importantly, by beating up on a young writer for holding a different political opinion. If that’s not a recipe for the alienation that drives young Israelis away from Israel, its hard to conjecture what is. Keep up the good work, Roi Ben Yehuda.

  10. Peter : You are right that this first person accounts have become the main style in journalism. The problem is that are so subjective that are misleading. What if Roi Ben Yehuda had visited this street when the bookstore was closed by the police? Then the article would be mislead in the opposite direction. So we must carefully distinguish subjective artistic experiences such is the article from a realistic account of the story about the bookstore. The only part that I explitly backup of Ami Isseroff statements is that the account can be called a concocted fable since does not reflect all the reality but a cherrypicked detail, as important as you want to the writer’s sensitivity, but not fair as a resume of the situation. It is sad that after having fought the bookshop for decades with all the strenght, now Barcelona appears in Haaretz as the paradise of the nazi bookshops. I think an easy way out of this can be that Roi Ben Yehuda writes an article about how the institutions and the people of Barcelona has been fighting against this bookshop so Haaretz readers can see the whole picture.

    PS : I am the one who has atracted attention to Mr. Isseroff work because I think that if everybody were like him, Middle East and the whole world would be a much better place.

  11. Roman, your response to Peter’s thoughtful comments shows how lost you guys really are.

    You write to Peter: “You are right that this first person accounts have become the main style in journalism.”

    Really, did Peter say that? Where? He simply pointed out the obvious – that my article was a classic first person narrative. Why am I pointing out your error? Because it is quite telling. You are projecting into the text something that is not there.

    You write: “So we must carefully distinguish subjective artistic experiences such is the article from a realistic account of the story about the bookstore. “

    Again, the story was not, as you write, about the bookstore, it was about my experience as a Jew in a Neo-Nazi bookstore.

    You write: “The only part that I explitly backup of Ami Isseroff statements is that the account can be called a concocted fable since does not reflect all the reality but a cherrypicked detail, as important as you want to the writer’s sensitivity, but not fair as a resume of the situation.”

    This is an astonishing statement. So you are stating that any story that fails to reflect “all the reality” is a lie. That would pretty much cover every article ever written (personal narrative or not). Roman, I do not think you understand what the words “concocted a fable” means in the context of journalism. It means the journalist in question deliberately made up his story. It means that journalist lied to his audience. To say that the story is incomplete is very different than to say it is fabricated (As Ami had originally done). Do you understand this distinction?

    You write: It is sad that after having fought the bookshop for decades with all the strenght, now Barcelona appears in Haaretz as the paradise of the nazi bookshops.”

    If you and Ami got a sense that I was describing Berlin circa 1930’s (as Ami had written), then perhaps you need to reread what I wrote. In the article I make it clear that Barcelona is a beautiful place full of friendly people (hardly an impression a Jew would have had of Germany at that time) . I also make it clear that I was not alone in my indignation and that Swastikas on the walls do not only represent Jew hatred. However, I have no problem admitting that I should have made these points more clear.

    You write: “I think an easy way out of this can be that Roi Ben Yehuda writes an article about how the institutions and the people of Barcelona has been fighting against this bookshop so Haaretz readers can see the whole picture.”

    I will leave that tasks to the both of you.

    You write: “PS : I am the one who has atracted attention to Mr. Isseroff work because I think that if everybody were like him, Middle East and the whole world would be a much better place.”

    That may be so. But I hope this episode is not a reflection of his work, heart, or intellect.

    Anyway, as I wrote above, I am brushing off this non-sense. I wish you guys well. Lets end this Jew-on-Jew violence 🙂

  12. Roman: You’re collaborating with Ami Isseroff in attacking Ben Yehuda because you’re embarrassed about this eyesore of a store in Barcelona That’s your point of agreement. I understand the convenience, particularly because you clearly like Isseroff’s work. Nevertheless, Ben Yehuda was quite fair about Barcelona in his article. But you’re not being fair to Ben Yehuda.

    You live in a country that has, for all of its liberalism, a long history of fascism. As much as Spaniards resented and fought Franco, throughout his reign, there are also elements of fascism still present in Spanish life, like this bookstore, and those domestic conservatives who attack African and Arab immigration.

    Ben Yehuda was clearly touching on this, which is why it upsets you so, and he was able to connect with it, precisely because he is an Israeli Jew. Perhaps because you are a European, you choose to close your eyes to moments like these, or because you’ve grown too used to living with them.

    The point is that like many Europeans, you are blaming a Jew again for something that is wrong with where you live, not with them. You may not intend to do so, but that is exactly what you’re doing, and you should be ashamed of yourself for doing so.

  13. btw, I just added another picture I took to the original post. It is of a big Swastika spray-painted over at IKEA’s parking garage. I have more.

  14. Ok. So if all agree that the bookshop should be closed ASAP there is no point to all this bitterness.

    And yes, Barcelona is dirty and full of graffittis. And the buildings are not so nice since during Franco time, corruption destroyed many buildings.

    And as a person born in Barcelona, I warmly invite Ben Yehuda to live here and help to continue the fight against the bookshop and against graffitis. If he is living here he is also responsible, no?

  15. Godlessjew : Sorry I did not see you post so I answer Peter.

    I perfectly understand what you felt and why you wrote it. Is like if I go to a country were people eats dogs. It looks so bizaree that I wrote home saying “people eats dogs here”.

    My point -that you will eventually understand if you live here- is that this bookshop is an statistical anomaly.

    I do not like foreigners speaking about it but I must understand that you cannot explain the anecdote without saying that in Barcelona there is a nazi bookshop.

    So perhaps everybody has overreacted.

    I apologize on my side while I insist that you write more on Barcelona, even if is from a subjective point of view :¬)

  16. Roman, apology accepted. I appreciate your honesty.

    As for writing more about Barcelona, I do have a forthcoming piece in The Metropolitan on the Jewish community of Barcelona. You can pick it up in October. I will also post it on my blog.

    Peace,

    Roi

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