On January 27, 2015, the Holocaust Memorial Day, OHPI published a briefing discussing how Holocaust denial is a well recognized form of antisemitism, and why social media companies’ poor response in dealing with it as part of their policies on hate speech must change. While we expected discussion in response to our new briefing, we were surprised at the volume of direct Holocaust denial that appeared. Many spoke out against these comments. There was a far more muted response to those posts seeking to undermine Holocaust Memorial Day with reference to other deaths during WWII, deaths in other genocides, or deaths in recent armed conflicts, particularly in the Middle East.
Our briefing showed how social media is giving a new lease of life to the completely discredited theories of Holocaust denial, and cited numerous examples of YouTube videos propagating it. It also discussed the problem in the way the Holocaust is sometimes compared to other genocides, not as a means of raising awareness about genocide generally, but as a way of attacking the commemoration of the Holocaust. The briefing also highlighted the completely inappropriate comparisons made between the Israel-Palestine conflict and the Holocaust. These comparisons amount to Holocaust trivialisation, and as we have previously shown, this comparison comes directly from the Hamas social media guide and is a part of a coordinated war time propaganda effort.
We normally moderate posts on our page fairly quickly, especially when the conversation is lively. Our usual approach is to remove problematic posts and ban the users responsible. In this case we had a 24 hour delay before moderating the page. This delay allowed us to document the problematic posts and reply to some of them. That documentation is present in this new briefing which illustrates a sharp rise in 2015 of “modern antisemitism”, a term coined by the French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy.
Not discussed in this briefing is the more general issue of “New Antisemitism”, which we have also seen spike, including on our own page, since the terrorist attacks in Denmark over the weekend. When a Jewish community is attacked in Europe, and people are killed, the subject of Middle East politics is entirely irrelevant. Whether the situation in the Middle East is heating up or not, targeting Jews in response to it is always unacceptable – be it with words or actions. This is no different to attacks on Muslim communities “in response” to the action of groups claiming to act for Islam. We may follow up with a post on “New Antisemitism” and the recent posts but now let’s examine “modern antisemitism” and the response to the Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27th.
In a speech before a special plenary session of the United Nations General Assembly on January 22 2015, Bernard-Henri Lévy explained that how “modern antisemitism” brought together three specific arguments.
Lévy describes the first argument as: “The Jews are detestable because they are assumed to support an evil, illegitimate, murderous state. This is the anti-Zionist delirium of the merciless adversaries of the re-establishment of the Jews in their historical homeland.”
This argument is based on an antisemitic view of Zionism. In this view, Zionism doesn’t mean the self determination of the Jewish people, a definition Zionists would use, but is rather seen as a personification of evil in the world. This representation of Zionist as evil comes from antisemitic propaganda promoted by the Arab League and the USSR for political reasons, and which culminated in the 1975 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”. The resolution was repealed in 1991 by an overwhelming majority. In fact, the repeal resolution was sponsored by over half the countries making up the General Assembly.
Lévy describes the second argument as: “The Jews are all the more detestable because they are believed to base their beloved Israel on imaginary suffering, or suffering that at the very least has been outrageously exaggerated. This is the shabby and infamous denial of the Holocaust.”
As he says, this is form of Holocaust denial which migrated from the far right into the Arab world in particular. The most recognised proponent of this view in the Middle East is former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who declared that the Holocaust was a myth at an Iranian Government sponsored Holocaust denial conference in 2006. A detailed look at attitudes to the Holocaust and Holocaust denial in the Arab world can be seen in the Yale Journal of International Affairs.
The third argument builds on the second. According to Lévy the argument says that basing Israel on a myth, “the Jews would commit a third and final crime that could make them still more guilty, which is to impose on us the memory of their dead, to completely stifle other peoples’ memories, and to overshadow other martyrs whose deaths have plunged parts of today’s world, most emblematically that of the Palestinians, into mourning. And here we come face to face with the modern-day scourge, the stupidity, that is competitive victimhood.”
Dr Edward Said, a leading Palestinian-American scholar, also spoke out against this competitive victimhood saying that, “there is a link to be made between what happened to Jews in World War II and the catastrophe of the Palestinian people, but it cannot be made only rhetorically, or as an argument to demolish or diminish the true content both of the Holocaust and of 1948. Neither is equal to the other; similarly, neither one nor the other excuses present violence; and finally, neither one nor the other must be minimized. There is suffering and injustice enough for everyone” (Edward W. Said, The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After (New York: Pantheon Books, 2000) page 207).
The modern antisemitism, in summary, argues that the Jewish people are to be hated because they are using the memory of their dead to support their illegitimate state. This requires that they keep the Holocaust in the limelight, and keep discussions on all other genocides at bay, particularly, the one they are committing against the Palestinians. Sadly, the comments on our page making this sort of argument were numerous. We’ll share and discuss some of these.
The first Argument: Zionism as Evil
The first image questions the legitimacy of the State of Israel to exist in the historic homeland of the Jewish people. The author of this post is acting in good faith, and clearly has no intention of denying either the Holocaust, or the right of self determination of the Jewish people.
This first post advances an argument that ignores the rights of an ancient people to their historic homeland. In doing so, it undermines the right of self-determination, that is of Jews to decide themselves how their peoplehood is to be instantiated in the modern world.
The Zionist Congress did indeed consider and reject the idea of forming a state in Uganda when this was offered. The opposition to the Uganda proposal was strongest from those delegates where Jews were most persecuted. The issue is not just about standing and safety, but about rights. Israel is not just a modern state in some area of land, it is a modern state based on a historic claim, a historic right, with all the cultural and religious implications this comes with. This is not to say that right can’t be compromised through negotiations, such as those for a two state solution. Indeed it is only through compromise that a solution can be reached. Recognising the rights of one side in the conflict, but not those on the other, produces a problematic outcome… even when this is not the intent.
The second image is an example of trolling. Note the spelling of Holocaust as “holocAust”, the writer, likely an Australian, probably found this very amusing. Note also the deliberate obtuseness of suggesting Hitler was Muslim, and that Jews are waiting for Jesus.
There are a range of antisemitic arguments in this trolling, but as they aren’t advanced as serious arguments, further analysis becomes an exercise in explaining the absurd. The “first argument” is, however, clearly present with Israel presented as the new Nazi state.
This is perhaps the most direct representation of the first argument.
Demonization is present where it says “Mossad are as evil as Satan himself”, and again where it speaks about “your evil needs”.
The argument that “anti-Zionism does not mean antisemitism” is technically a true statement, however, it is used here to mean “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism” which is untrue. To make it logically true one would need to say something like “anti-Zionism is not always antisemitism” or “not all anti-Zionism is antisemitic”. The problem is that many forms of anti-Zionism, like this example, are antisemitic.
Forms of anti-Zionism which are not antisemitic include: (1) Jews who believe self-determination should not involve a state, the Satmar, an Ultra Orthadox sect of Jusaidsm are an example of this, (2) people who on principle object to all nation states, so long as they don’t single Israel out for special treatment, this too is a legitimate position.
Videos and article promoting the definition of Zionism as evil were also common. Here’s an example:
This video has since been removed by YouTube.
The second argument: Holocaust Denial
The fact that our briefing discussed how Holocaust denial is a form of antisemitism didn’t stop people making direct claims denying the Holocaust. Here are some typical examples:
Holocaust denial “research” has been discredited as fraudulent by both academics and courts of law. Unfortunately, social media gives a fresh breath of life to these conspiracy theories. Where traditional research is vetted and peer reviewed by other academics, and would have reached the public only after a professional journalist considered it and an editor approved publication, online these filters are removed. The only filter between the public and people peddling dishonest and mendacious theories of Holocaust denial is the platform provider. Unfortunately, platform providers seem unwilling to take a stand, and Facebook in particular takes a position of banning hate speech, but making an explicit exception for Holocaust denial. This is not because the platforms themselves are Holocaust deniers, but because they naively see it as a way of showing their commitment to an idea of freedom of speech. As we mentioned in our previous briefing, Zuckerberg has said he stands by people’s right to be factually wrong.
We believe that lies and misinformation which are a form of hate speech should not be excused just because they are about recent historical events. This seems a contrived exception to Facebook’s general position against hate speech. The spread of Holocaust denial on social media is leading to the targeting of Jews around the world. It is the responsibility of the platform provider to remove such content, or they are complicit in the spread of antisemitism.
The third argument: competitive suffering
The argument suggesting that no mention of the Holocaust is valid unless it is accompanied by mentions of all other genocides that took place is also popular. Here we enter in the arena of, what Levy described as, “competitive victimhood”. This approach is used to undermine the remembrance of the Holocaust on Holocaust Memorial Day, rather than to genuinely try and raise awareness of other tragedies.
Building on this idea are those who claim that the term Holocaust itself should be used to describe other genocides. This is to suggest the day itself should then be mutated to a different purpose. This bears some relationship to those who falsely argue that efforts to combat antisemitism are too focused on Jews and should be focused on speakers of other semitic languages as well, ignoring the fact that antisemitism as a word was coined to specifically refer to anti-Jewish sentiments.
Some in the “competitive victimhood” arena argue that enough attention has been paid to the Holocaust, and that we must put the memories of the Holocaust aside in order to start commiserating with the victims of other genocides. Given that remembering the Holocaust on Holocaust Memorial Day teaches us lessons of general applicability throughout the year, this argument is flawed. Additionally, the structure of our laws and modern understanding of genocide and crimes against humanity come from our understanding of the Holocaust, reducing understanding of the Holocaust will not help the efforts to promote human rights at all.
The first example highlights a few misunderstandings:
The first misunderstanding is over the term “Holocaust” (note the capital H). This refers specifically to the Nazi regime’s mass murder of Jews, and may refer more generally to the murder of other groups persecuted by the Nazis. It definitely doesn’t extended to other genocides, though it is only from understanding the Holocaust that the more general term genocide was created. The distinction is important as some factors set the Holocaust apart from other genocides, primarily the fact that it was turned into an industrialized process to produce dead Jews as efficiently as possible. It is not just a matter of how many people were killed but also of the intent, politics and infrastructure used to murder them.
Under the broader definition of the Holocaust, a total of 11 million people were killed, six million of them Jews. The five million others come from a variety of persecuted groups. There is, however, an important distinction to be made between the treatment of the Jews under the Nazis and the treatment of the other groups, with the exception some argue of the Roma and Sinti (also referred to as Gypsies). Some academics object to the broader definition because the “final solution for the Jewish problem” was clear from the start of the Holocaust, and even military objectives were sacrificed in order to further this goal.
That brings us to the second misconception. The post refers to those targeted for “slaughter en masse”, but only the Jews were targeted in this way from the start. Later in the war the idea of total extermination was also extended to the Roma and Sinti. Other groups were certainly targeted, and these should be, and are, remembered on Holocaust memorial day as well, but this doesn’t change the nature of the Holocaust a historical genocide primarily directed against the Jewish people.
The other victims, besides the Jews, Roma and Sinti, included: Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to sign documents of loyalty to the Nazi ideology and were forced to wear purple arm bands, thousands were imprisoned; Priests and Pastors were persecuted for rejecting Nazi ideology which sought to replace religion. Thousands were placed in concentration camps. While a few were killed, most who died succumbed to starvation or disease; Homosexuals were also sent to concentration camps and around 5,000 to 15,000 were killed; The Nazis killed thousands of people with disabilities, deeming them of no value to society; around 400 children with at least one black parent were medically sterilized.
This post makes another error. It isn’t just disabled Germans who were persecuted, it was also German Jews, German religious leaders, German homosexuals, etc. The point they were German is besides the point, that isn’t why the German-Nazis persecuted them.
A 1995 report suggests the USSR lost 7.4 million people, includes Jewish victims, as a direct result of Nazi policies of genocide and reprisals against resistance. A further 6.3 million victims were either deported or died from famine and disease. The specific genocidal policy of the Nazis towards the Jews remains the fundamental feature of the Holocaust. The deals in the USSR don’t change this at all.
The next comment makes the “modern antisemitism” argument quite directly:
A briefing that examines Holocaust denial on the Holocaust Memorial Day cannot be about the victims of the Russian gulags, or the Rwandan genocide or the genocide of the Aboriginal people in Australia. Not because their sufferings were any less but because it would not be the appropriate time and place to do so. One could mount such an attack against the remembrance of any and all genocides on the basis that it wasn’t being totally inclusive. The motivation for this post appears to come out of a position of competitive victimhood.
This next post also made the direct claim of modern antisemitism. It states, “”It would not be such a huge issue were it not for the fact that this term has been bandied around for the last 60 years to silence anyone who brings up Israel’s war crimes”. The claim is not only false, but perfectly reflects Bernard-Henri Lévy’s third argument.
The next post raises a valid point about the need to deal with what’s happening now, but the argument of a zero sum gain, that is, that one can either remember the past or deal with present issues, is clearly wrong. This should be happening 365 days of the year, and it is not an argument to “not continue to cry about what happened 70 years ago”.
Remembering the Holocaust does not belittle the victims of other genocides. The Holocaust is the most extreme example of what unchecked hate speech can do. We have to make sure that the history of the Holocaust is not forgotten, revised or trivialized because it gives context to all other genocides that have followed since. Rather than diminishing other genocides, the Holocaust gives us a clear point of reference to discuss them. What happened in the Holocaust carries lessons for today, and if we are willing to forget rather than remember, history will be doomed to repeat itself. One day a year for the world to remember the Holocaust is not a huge imposition.
The last post in this section suggests the Jews need to “let it go” in order for there to be peace in Palestine. On our page people raised many examples to show how inappropriate it was to suggest victims who have suffered terribly be told to simply “let it go”. These are powerful arguments. Another, however, comes from champions of Palestinian rights who argue that it is through a better understanding of the Holocaust by Palestinians that a two state solution will be reached.
The third argument in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
If the Holocaust gives context to other genocides then why shouldn’t it be used with respect to the Israeli-Palestine conflict? We come now to the arguments equating the Holocaust with the plight of the Palestinians. Such arguments equate the Nazi policies to that of the Israeli government’s, and the victims of the Holocaust to the Palestinian people. Such people complain that the memory of the Holocaust doesn’t need to be respected because it is being used by the Jews to commit horrors of its own. Here’s a few examples:
The biggest problem with these arguments is that there is no attempted genocide by the Israeli government against the Palestinians , let alone on the scale perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jews.
Professor Yehuda Bauer, a leading scholar on the Holocaust and the person who gave the address at the UN General Assembly’s first International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration (in 2006), draws a distinction between a genocide and a conflict. In this paper, he calls conflict a confrontation between two or more sides, none of which has sufficient power to conquer and/or annihilate the other or others, or cannot use the power it has for one reason or another. By contrast, a genocidal situation arises when one party is overwhelmingly powerful, and the targeted victim is nearly or totally powerless.
He called Kashmir and Sri Lanka examples of conflicts. Both involve political oppression and possible guerrilla threat, but there is no real danger of genocide. The Middle East falls into the same category. “The Palestinians cannot overcome Israel with terrorism or rockets, nor can Israel annihilate the Palestinian population; it remains a bloody and difficult conflict, but not a genocide.”
One would not call America’s attempts to weed Al Queda out of Afghanistan, where many innocent civilians have suffered, a genocide of the Afghan people. We can debate whether its actions lead to the abuse of the Afghan people or the country’s political oppression or not, but there is no debate on whether its actions amount to attempted genocide. They do not.
Those making this argument are doing more than calling the situation in Palestine a genocide. They are comparing it to the worst and most coldly-planned genocide in human history. There is also an added problem which we previously explained, “its use is designed to cause distress to those who survived the Holocaust or who grew up as the children of survivors. It’s like disagreeing with someone eating meat, and knowing they are a rape victim, choosing to make your point by comparing eating meat with rape and saying that someone who had been raped should know better. It’s not just a bad analogy, it’s applying a different standard to someone because they are a victim, making them a victim a second time.”
The intention of genocide is the issue rather than the numbers, but it is still worth recalling the words of Jihad Al-Khazen, editor-in-chief of the leading daily Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat. As he explained, “reciprocal massacres between Arabs and Jews throughout history, including the past fifty years, were very limited and cannot be compared with the murder of the Jews by the Nazis”. To give some perspective, the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust is greater than the total number of Palestinians living in both the West Bank and the Gaza strip combined. Again though, numbers are not the issue. The issue is the creation of a deliberate process to efficiently produce dead people out of every man, woman and child in the target group. That is what the Nazis aimed to do to the Jews. The situation in Gaza is nothing close to this.
So why is this comparison on the increase in social media? As explained in The Australian, Hamas has been encouraging its supporters to compare the situation in Palestine to the Holocaust as part of a carefully orchestrated social media strategy. The strategy has been openly promoted to activists via official Hamas channels. MEMRI translated the guide in mid-July last year from Arabic to English. One of the points from the guide is to “Avoid entering into a political argument with a Westerner aimed at convincing him that the Holocaust is a lie and deceit; instead, equate it with Israel’s crimes against Palestinian civilians”. Another is that, “Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine, before we talk about his status in jihad or his military rank. Don’t forget to always add ‘innocent civilian’ or ‘innocent citizen’ in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza.”
The second directive takes on meaning when you consider that Israel focuses on targeting Hamas combatants during its attacks. Hamas’s charter is committed to Israel’s destruction, and by its own admission it fires rockets at the civilian population in Israel. Thus, it is in direct military conflict with the Israeli government. But to conflate the killing of its own operatives to that of civilians, and then claim an attempted genocide along the lines of Holocaust, amounts to chicanery.
It is fair of supporters of Palestine to criticize Israel’s government provided it does so with accuracy and within the right context. But resorting to hyperbole doesn’t help. It hinders the chances of peaceful negotiation, and it fuels antisemitism around the world and puts Jewish lives at risk. Raising this inappropriate comparison on Holocaust Memorial Day serves no useful purpose, and if anything harms the Palestinian cause as it comes across as insensitive, overtly political and highly disrespectful.
We started by looking at the concept of modern antisemitism. This form of antisemitism combines antisemitic anti-Zionism, Holocaust denial and the argument that the Holocaust is being used to silence discussions on other genocides, particularly with respect to Palestine. Modern antisemitism paints a picture of a Jewish community that is exaggerating its own pain, and then using it to inflict pain on others, and it argues that for this reason the Jews deserve to be hated.
This report shows how antisemitic anti-Zionism, holocaust denial, and political points about the Israeli-Palestinian come together to imply that the Holocaust is being used to justify illegitimate actions by the State of Israel. These comments were not posted on a thread about the Middle East where someone Jewish brought up the Holocaust; they were rather posted to a thread about the Holocaust on Holocaust Memorial Day. The context is important. The Holocaust was not brought up to silence people discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as some asserted, rather the claim of being silenced was brought up to prevent a discussion about commemoration of the Holocaust and the rise of antisemitism today (the topic of the briefing the messages were in reply to).
The problem we see here is that modern antisemitism, while attempting to make political points, is instead making a racist attack against the Jewish community. The memory of the victims of the Holocaust is something sacred and should not be used for such political adventures. The effort to commandeer Holocaust Memorial Day is not just distasteful, it is an act of hate against the Jewish community. It is a form of antisemitism: Modern antisemitism, as Bernard-Henri Lévy so aptly called it.