A pro-Palestine Israeli academic has been forced to issue an apology and pay damages after libelling a former Irish minister during a debate about Israel.
Alan Shatter, the former Dublin South TD, who is a lawyer and author, was taking part in a discussion on Irish broadcaster RTE about the controversy surrounding writer Sally Rooney’s refusal to print her latest book in Hebrew.
Listening to the show was Dr Ronit Lentin who launched a barrage of tweets against Mr Shatter, including two which made outrageous and libellous claims about his character.
Mr Shatter, who served as Ireland’s Justice Minister from 2011 to 2014, told the JC he often received abuse online for his defence of Israel but mostly from anonymous accounts.
However he said Dr Lentin’s tweets were so “egregious” he had no option but to launch legal proceedings.
The JC has seen the tweets which were not antisemitic but made damaging claims about Mr Shatter’s character.
The JC will not repeat the substance of the libel which left Dr Lentin having to make a public apology and pay thousands in damages to the charity which Mr Shatter is chairman of.
Mr Shatter said: “I am sadly well used to being abused on social media and I am well used to being targeted with antisemitic abuse on social media but most people do this from the heroic stance of being anonymous.
“Dr Lentin’s depictions of me were so despicable, so egregious that they need to be addressed.”
In a tweet on Thursday, Dr Ronit Lentin said she had deleted two tweets “containing untruthful assertions” about Mr Shatter.
She added: “I apologise for any hurt caused and damage done to his good name and reputation.”
At Dr Shatter’s request, Dr Lentin paid a sum of 2,000 euros in damages to Magen David Adom, Israel's National Blood and Medical Emergency Service which works across the religious divide.
This is not the first time Ireland’s former Minister for Justice and the pro-Palestine Israeli academic have clashed.
Mr Shatter, a lawyer who was the last Jewish member of the Irish Government until his resignation in 2014, wrote a letter to the Irish Times to rebut a letter from the retired sociology professor Dr Lentin in which he accused her of “failing to take antisemitism seriously”.
Dr Lentin, a supporter of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Jewish Voice for Just Peace Ireland, argued she did not believe that “elevating antisemitism above other forms of racism, particularly Islamophobia and anti-migrant racism, is helpful in tackling racism”.
She claimed the debate about antisemitism was “masquerading” as anti-racism and that it undermined “the understanding of racism as a colonial technology of power aimed at maintaining a white supremacy”.
In his response, Mr Shatter wrote that her view had “no relevance to my being spat at and also being called a dirty Jew on Dublin’s streets when a TD (the Irish equivalent of an MP), my being targeted with antisemitic abuse on social media which still occurs, the posting to my home when Minister for Justice of ashes, together with images of skeletal concentration camp survivors and Nazi symbols.”
And he slammed Dr Lentin’s “extreme” views which he said represented only an “infinitesimal number of members of the Jewish community”.
The apology follows a report published earlier this month into antisemitism by journalist David Collier which exposed the extent to which antisemitic views had become commonplace in mainstream politics and within academia.
Mr Shatter told the JC Mr Collier had “done an extraordinary job and produced an important piece of research” but it was being “largely ignored” by a media and political class that did not want to confront the antisemitism rife within Irish society.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week promised to speed up the introduction of the Online Safety Bill amid mounting concerns about the levels of abuse on major sites like Twitter. Among the measures now being called for is identity verification for Twitter accounts so users can be better held to account for what they write.