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“Vile racist abuse?”

By Steven | February 4, 2009

Here’s Vince Siemer’s case in a microcosm. Siemer writes intemperately about Stiassny. The courts overreact to Siemer. Siemer overreacts to the courts.

In the $920,000 damages judgment, Justice Cooper accuses Siemer of directing “vile racist abuse” at Stiassny. Here’s his reasoning:

[48] [Stiassny] complained also that some of the language used by Mr Siemer had apparently been calculated to be offensive to him and caused distress. Examples that he gave included ridicule of his name. Mr Siemer had distributed stickers saying “There is an ‘ass’ in our website www.stiassny.org”. Also there had been references to his Jewish religion and to the persecution of the Jews. Thus, in his letter to the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants of 14 February 2005 Mr Siemer had written:

News Flash! Michael Stiassny tells Professional Conduct Committee that sky is yellow… again, the sky is yellow.

[49] Further, on www.stiassny.org, on the “interviews page” Mr Siemer had referred to him as a man with “exceptional sway within the small Jewish community” and had commented that “when the judiciary determines that a ruthless and powerful man’s reputation is so priceless…the Gestapo cannot be far behind…people like Adolph[sic] Hitler…”.

[50] On a page headed “the Smartest Guy in the Room”, Mr Siemer had stated:

Stiassny will likely have taken his family and ill-gotten gains to exile in Israel or Switzerland.

[51] On the welcome page, Mr Siemer had referred to Mr Stiassny in the phrase:

…what a good Jew he is (no joke).

I find this a bit mystifying. What part of the “News Flash” comment refers to Stiassny’s religion? How is the comment about the Gestapo and Hitler anything other than a criticism of the judiciary – and one that draws a sympathetic comparison between Siemer and Jews as victims? Why is the exile comment anti-Semitic?

Yep, the “what a good Jew he is” comment is yucky. But is it “vile racist abuse”? Siemer is right to regard the judge’s characterisation of his attacks as unfair, I think.

So how does Siemer respond? By saying in a letter he’s circulated that the judge “simply made it up”. But this is nonsense, too. You can see from Siemer’s own website that the quotes are accurate, and the bits the judge has abbreviated don’t change the sense of the words, or take them out of context. The problem isn’t that the judge invented them or used them unfairly, it’s that they’re not really vile racist abuse. (Siemer doesn’t discuss the “good Jew” quote).

I’d have more sympathy for Siemer if he didn’t engage in such ridiculous exaggeration. But I have to say, I’m much more troubled when the courts do it…

[Update:  On the “good Jew” quote, Siemer says he was responding to this NZ Herald article, which quotes Stiassny saying “I’m Jewish. I support Israel but it would be inappropriate for me to talk about that.” Siemer says he was simply summarising this comment, accurately characterising it as Stiassny saying what a good Jew he is. I don’t have the context of Siemer’s original statement to evaluate that, but if true it very much changes the complexion of the quote.]

Topics: Defamation | 45 Comments »

45 Responses to ““Vile racist abuse?””

  1. ross Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    I would’ve thought that the “sky is yellow” comment could offend the Chinese community but it would be a stretch. Maybe Judge Cooper sees things that aren’t really there.

  2. ross Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Slightly off-topic, I note that Stiassay has apparently spent over a million dollars in legal costs pursuing Siemer. I know that if my reputation had been unfairly tarnished, I would be taking steps to present the truth. Do you know if Stiassny has his own website detailing the truth? Has he publicly countered Siemer’s claims?

  3. Steven Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Stiassny’s version of events is recorded in some of the court decisions, but I don’t think he’s been making public comments.

  4. lyndon Says:
    February 4th, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Yellow was a tradition color to use if you wanted to make Jewish people wear some special garment to identify themselves, if you were medieval Europe or the Nazis.

    I could conceive of a context where that could apply to the above quote, but it’s not this one.

  5. ross Says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Steven,

    That was my understanding too. It’s curious that Stiassny feels his reputation has been tarnished but publicly doesn’t seem to be taking any steps to explain what he feels aggrieved about. I don’t understand why the Courts have not addressed the substance of Siemer’s allegations. Surely that’s the crux of this case and needs to be resolved.

  6. Steven Says:
    February 5th, 2009 at 10:23 am

    Siemer has been debarred from defending the action because he has refused to pay costs (which it seems he could have paid from his US assets) – that means the courts cannot address the substance of his allegations.

    They did, however, address them in a preliminary way when Stiassny was granted an injunction right at the outset. The rule is that such injunctions should only be granted when it’s clear the allegations are untrue. I haven’t seen all the evidence that was before the two High Court judges who considered the issue (or the Court of Appeal, who upheld the injunction, but on a different basis). But I’m increasingly of the view that this wasn’t such a clear case that the injunction was justified.

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