Attempts to deny the Holocaust or to compare Nazi behavior to that of the IDF continue unabated. On October 12, 87-year-old Ursula Hedwig Meta Haverbeck-Wetzel, an author and Holocaust denier, was sentenced for the third time to a German prison for denying the Holocaust. What is especially troubling is that this behavior is no longer confined to the likes of Ms. Haverbeck-Wetzel, David Irving or other Holocaust deniers.
Daniel Johnson, editor of The Standpoint, a British monthly cultural and political magazine, reported that on October 25, 2016 in the British House of Lords, Jews were accused of precipitating the Holocaust, Israel was equated with the Islamic State and Zionists had significant influence in Parliament. The remarks were ostensibly part of a campaign launched by Palestinian Return Centre demanding an “official apology” from the British government for issuing the Balfour Declaration.
Though these remarks, which were widely reported, were disavowed by the center, the damage had been done. Johnson commented that “What gives anti-Semites a sinister significance in Europe is the traction they gain from postcolonial guilt and postmodernist ideology. On university campuses, basic concepts such as truth and justice have been relativized. Jews and others who protest are silenced by intimidation, as happened at University College London last week when protesters allegedly attacked people who had gathered to hear a talk by an Israeli speaker.”
The question of how to respond to Holocaust denial and efforts to stifle free speech is not new. When Michael Shermer, the founder of The Skeptics Society, and editor in chief of its magazine Skeptic, and I co-authored a book on Holocaust denial, we decided that if we did not respond to their lies, our silence would be interpreted as having no answer to their outrageous and hurtful fabrications.
Unfortunately, the deniers have convinced some in the media that this is a free speech issue, which it is not. No one is asking the government to prevent the deniers from speaking or publishing their literature. We need to know who they are, their objectives and what they are espousing. But we are under no legal or moral obligation to publish and promote their work or provide them with venues to facilitate their hatemongering activities.
As part of their attempt to assert their legitimacy, the deniers allege they are revisionists. By making this claim, they falsely bestow upon themselves an air of erudition and authenticity. The problem is they selectively choose what suits their position and ignore or discount the rest. Genuine revisionists are historians who revise or modify a theory based on new information, or provide a new interpretation of an event, rather than fabrication or omission.
Deniers justify their claim that the Holocaust is a hoax on the three points that define the Holocaust.
- The Holocaust was a highly technical, well-organized and systematic program using gas chambers and crematoria, among other instruments and methods, to murder Jews.
- An estimated six million Jews were murdered.
- There was an intention to commit genocide of Jews based primarily on racial ideology.
When we refer to the Holocaust, we mean the systematic bureaucratically administered destruction by the Nazis and their collaborators of six million Jews during the Second World War. The Jews were found “guilty” only because they were viewed inaccurately as a race. The Nazi state orchestrated the attempted mass murder of every person with at least three Jewish grandparents.
Comparing Israel’s, Israelis’ and Jews’ treatment of Palestinian Arabs to the Nazis is a clear distortion of history. These accusations trivialize the Holocaust, misrepresent and minimize the experiences of all who suffered and prevent a legitimate understanding of its causes and its universal implications for Western society. What evidence has ever been presented to prove that the slogan “The victims have become the perpetrators” is accurate?
A task force of former senior U.S. military leaders commissioned by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) to evaluate Hamas’s strategy and Israel’s response during Operative Protective Edge in 2014 found that Hamas used Israel’s citizen’s “aversion to excessive or unjustified casualties” in an attempt to undermine the war effort by describing the IDF’s tactics as “indiscriminate and disproportional.”
Furthermore, “Contrary to accusations of widespread unlawful military conduct,” the Task Force “observed that Israel systemically applied established rules of conduct that adhered to or exceeded the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) in a virtually unprecedented effort to avoid inflicting civilian casualties, even when doing so would have been lawfully permitted, and to satisfy the concerns of critics.”
Significantly, the Task Force opposed this level of restraint to be the standard of U.S. armed forces. “The ever-increasing level of restraint implemented by the IDF reflects the inherent risk in conflating law and policy,” they concluded.
Having interviewed Holocaust deniers, Michael Shermer and I know that no amount of evidence will persuade them to abandon their belief that the Holocaust never occurred. Those using the Holocaust to portray Israel as behaving like Nazis are equally determined and incorrigible. Our task is to learn how to respond to those seeking to deny the Holocaust and using it to defame Israel.
By Alex Grobman, PhD
Alex Grobman is a Hebrew University-trained historian, and is co-author with Michael Shermer of “Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Occurred and Why Do They Say It?” and author of “License to Murder: The Enduring Threat of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” He is a consultant to the America-Israel Friendship League, a member of the Council of Scholars for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and a member of the Academic Council of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.