The Spectator apologises for falsely accusing Muslim of antisemitism


Apology follows settlement in which magazine and contributor Melanie Phillips agreed to pay Mohammad Sawalha compensation and his legal costs

  • Josh Halliday
  • guardian.co.uk, Thursday 25 November 2010 16.45 GMT
  • Melanie Phillips
    Melanie Phillips, journalist and political commentator.
    Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

    The Spectator and contributor Melanie Phillips today published an online apology to a prominent British Muslim they falsely accused of antisemitism.

    Today’s apology, published on the Spectator website, follows an out of court settlement in which the magazine and Phillips agreed to pay Mohammad Sawalha “substantial” compensation and his legal costs.

    Sawalha, president of the British Muslim Initiative, took legal action over a blog post by Phillips published in July 2008 in which she accused him of calling British Jews “evil/noxious”.

    The apology stated: “On 2 July 2008 we published an article entitled ‘Just look what came crawling out’ which alleged that at a protest at the celebration in London of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, Mohammad Sawalha had referred to Jews in Britian as ‘evil/noxious’.

    “We now accept that Mr Sawalha made no such antisemitic statement and that the article was based on a mistranslation elsewhere of an earlier report. We and Melanie Phillips apologise for the error.”

    Solicitors acting for Sawalha said he was “delighted” to be cleared of the false allegation.

    Sawalha, a long-time campaigner for community cohesion in Britain, took the dispute to the high court after the Spectator initially refused to correct Phillips blog post, which alleged that he had referred to Jews in Britain as “evil/noxious” at a protest in London of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel.

    Instead, the Spectator published a second story by Phillips, titled “Taking the airbrush to evil”, repeating the false allegation and casting doubt on the suggestion that the “evil/noxious” quote was the result of a mistranslation of the transcript of an interview.

    They continued to defend the claim even after an independent expert commissioned by both sides had confirmed that the phrase in the original transcript could not be translated as referring to Jews as “evil/noxious”, before finally settling shortly before the case was due in court.

    In October, the Spectator paid substantial damages and legal costs to the campaign group IslamExpo, of which Sawalha is a director, for an article it also published in July 2008. Matthew d’Ancona was editor at the time, replaced by Fraser Nelson in August last year.

    The article, written by Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard, called IslamExpo a racist, fascist and genocidal organisation.

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