An unwelcome visitor popped up in Atlanta recently, and as is his wont, David Irving left anger, confusion, frustration, disgust and, most of all, hate in his wake.
Despite losing his libel case and later serving time in an Austrian prison, the 79-year-old Irving is still making the Holocaust-denial rounds, cashing in on his celebrity among those eager to swallow the lie that the slaughter of 6 million Jews by the Nazis is the greatest hoax in history, not the greatest crime against humanity.
Irving has spent a couple of months on a U.S. speaking tour called “David Irving Looks Back: My Fifty Years Defending Real History Against Its Enemies. An Evening With the Historian.” He charged $49.01 for the privilege of dining with him, hearing him talk and having the opportunity to buy his books Thursday night, July 20, at Antica Posta in Buckhead.
It’s galling that Irving chose to return to Atlanta, but we suspect he takes a special pleasure in darkening Lipstadt’s back yard. (Not that she notices: Lipstadt assures us she doesn’t waste any time tracking Irving’s activities.)
It’s repellent that he can find enough Americans to pay to hear his lies that it’s profitable for him to visit cities big (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles) and small (Birmingham, Ala., Columbia, S.C.). But, as the Anti-Defamation League has found, public incidents of anti-Semitism are on the rise.
We would not have expected even Irving’s presence, however, to have instigated the kind of ugliness that was reported in a private dining room at the restaurant that night.
Shelley Sidney, the young woman assigned to serve that crowd without knowing who they were, got a special gift from the last man whose order she took: a swastika scrawled on the menu, handed to her “with the biggest smirk on his face,” according to her public Facebook post about the incident. (She also told her story to WSB-TV news.)
Members of the group went on boisterous rants about blacks, Jews, gay people and immigrants, sparing no slurs, according to Sidney.
In some ways, though, we’d rather have them be public with their ugly views so we know who our enemies are. The most distressing part of Irving’s unwanted visit, however, is the reported behavior of restaurant owner Marco Betti.
Restaurant attorney Manny Arora told WSB that Betti didn’t know who Irving was when he booked the event and that the group didn’t cause any disturbances for other diners.
Sidney tells a different story, including several staffers and at least one Jewish customer being disturbed by the Irving group’s dialogue and dismayed by what they saw as Betti’s indifference.
It’s unfair to expect a restaurateur to vet customers in advance, though, if Sidney’s version is accurate, Betti could have put decency and his staff’s feelings ahead of profits once he knew what was going on.
Now people are vowing to stay away from Antica Posta, and Betti has a choice. He can make a statement — backed by a donation of the dinner’s proceeds to a Holocaust education group — that his restaurant, like his city, is no place for hate. Or he can feel what it’s like to be the target of hate himself.