Responses to Holocaust Memorial Day 2021

Each year on January 27th we publish an article for International Holocaust Memorial Day. Then we receive the comments. We document them, moderate them, and ban posters where we feel it is appropriate. Then we share an article about what we removed and why.

We end up doing this every year, it is incredibly painful and frustrating. If we don’t, however, we will have been forced into silence, either letting the commemoration of the day go all together, or losing the chance, however slim, to educate and cause reflection. So we persist in the annual dance of remembrance and frustration.

This year our posted focused on the role of Holocaust denial in the radicalization pipeline to white supremacy. This is the sort of threat that led in 2019 to the Christchurch terrorist attack on two mosques in New Zealand, the Poway attack on a synagogue in in the United States, another attack on a synagogue in Halle Germany, and the supermarket car park attack targeting immigrants in El Paso. This is a threat to all of us, to society at large. It’s not something to be draw attention away from or seek to distract people from. It is a clear and present danger.

Our article also remembered the victims of the Holocaust and shared details of the national commemoration event for Australia that just took place. An event where Holocaust survivors, their decedents, Justice Michael Kirby one of our nations leading human rights champions, and senior figures from the major parties all spoke. Again, hardly something to seek to disrupt.

Despite this we received the usual comments, though notably the neo-Nazi ones were (so far) absent this year. Perhaps they have really all migrated elsewhere. Or perhaps our content was just better targeted this year. We’ll discuss some of the types of commenters we see, then look at and respond to some of the specific comments.

The types of people who post inappropriate comments

The Uninformed

Many of those making these comments are ignorant about the Holocaust and have only a very superficial understanding. They typically ask why we always focus on the Jews on this day. Why can’t we focus on other victims for a change.

This is problematic on two grounds. Firstly, many remembrance ceremonies so explicitly mention the other groups besides the Jews who were persecuted by the Nazis. Particularly during candle lighting ceremonies. Secondly, the Holocaust is specifically about the Jewish victims of the Nazis. It is the Nazis themselves who treated the Jews differently. At the time they did this society had no word for genocide, that all came later, the Holocaust of the Jewish people by the Nazis is the archetype of our understanding of the crime of genocide.

The Holocaust Encyclopaedia explains:

The Nazi regime persecuted different groups on ideological grounds. Jews were the primary targets for systematic persecution and mass murder by the Nazis and their collaborators. Nazi policies also led to the brutalization and persecution of millions of others. Nazi policies towards all the victim groups were brutal, but not identical.

While the Nazis saw others as “inferior” and a “nuisance” (e.g. the Roma), or as a “burden” on the state (e.g. people with disabilities) the Jews of Europe were seen as a threat to be wiped out to the last man, woman and child. Anyone with one Jewish grandparent was to be considered Jewish, regardless of their religion, and was to be exterminated. This goal of the Nazis was given priority even over winning the war.

Some seek to move beyond World War II, saying we should shift the entire focus to more recent genocides. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance has tips for educators when drawing comparison between the Holocaust and other genocides. It can be educationally useful, but there are things to do and things to avoided. Chief among those things is not raising other genocides to diminish or trivialise the Holocaust.

The Uncomfortable

Some are uncomfortable acknowledging Jewish suffering. If they did, they would have to acknowledge antisemitism which causes that suffering. They would have to acknowledge where their own behaviour crosses that line. They would have to acknowledge Jews as real people with the same rights as others. It is easier to other the Jews. They convince themselves this is ok.

Crusaders with a Cause

Some seek to take advantage of a potential stage, never mind what it is intended for, to promote their own agenda. They do it because they feel their issue is so urgently it justifies disrespecting and disregarding other people and their sacred ties and spaces. Many of those are not victims themselves, just crusaders with a cause.

There are many urgent problems in the world. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the push on the need for urgent action on climate change was growing rapidly. Would that make it appropriate to disrupt a non-CVOID ANZAC Day service because it would insure news coverage? The level of disrespect that would show, the insult it be to those who gave their lives for Australia, and for their living families, explains why this would callous and extremely disrespectful. It is no different with Holocaust Memorial Day, except the victims are Jews. Do their lives matter any less?

Political Advocates

There are those who seek to deflect from the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but who do so out of political motivation. They seek to minimize understanding of antisemitism in general and of the Holocaust in particular. They may acknowledge the Holocaust and seek to draw equivalence with Gaza, or they may declare that what the Palestinians are suffering is worse than the Holocaust.

Antisemitism, particularly the pogroms, was a key reason for the movement (well before the Holocaust) that ultimately led to the creation of the State of Israel. The dream of this movement was that with a state of their own, the Jewish people would no longer be victims among the nations of the world. Those seeking the destruction of the Jewish state, for example by replacing it with a state of Palestine that extends “from the river to the sea” want the need for a Jewish state (never mind the historic Jewish claims to the land as its indigenous people) to be forgotten. Some also want a green light to wipe out the Jewish population of Israel and push them into the sea.

This group often seeks to distract from the Jewish history in that land, they present misinformation such as claiming Jesus was a Palestinian (he was of course a Jew), that Jews today are decedents of Khazars, and that antisemitism (word created by an antisemite to signify hate of Jews and only ever used in this context) is instead about hate of Arabs. This is all mis-information designed to reduce understanding and confuse people so they give up and just accept a political narrative which at best have very significant omissions.

The Overt Antisemites

There are those whose aim is simply to harm. They pick a post on Holocaust Memorial Day to cause maximum distress with their comments. Some of them are openly neo-Nazis. We didn’t see this in 2021, possibly because so many of the neo-Nazis have been pushed off Facebook over the past year.

Comments in 2021

The first comment speaks about “You Israel” and seems to mistake us, an Australian charity, for the Israeli Government. We highlighted that we are Australian, a charity and don’t have anything to do with the sale of drones. It is an example of seeing a commemoration of Jewish victims of genocide as an opportunity for discussion of today’s actions of either the Israeli Government or perhaps Israeli companies (it is unclear from the post). What is says is that recognition of Jewish suffering should be conditional.

This next comment makes a grand concession that “yes the Holocaust happened” as it seeks not only to focus on attacking Israel for its policies in relation to the Palestinians, but in fact goes further blaming not Israel but Jews and saying they need to be accountable. That amounts to a politically motivated green light for antisemitism, and potentially violence, against Jews around the world.

We commented that blaming all Jews for Israeli actions was deeply problematic, and indeed no different to blaming all Muslims for ISIS, the user behind the comment above doubled down:

The comment at the end, that “Jews who refuse to acknowledge or account the ongoing genocide of Palestine as as bad as holocaust deniers” is particularly galling. There is a history of Palestinian advocacy efforts that seek compare Israel to the Nazis. This antisemitic tactic is so common it is explicitly listed in the examples within the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. For many, the term Palestinian Genocide is considered a libel, a false accusation maliciously designed to spread antisemitism. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach explained just how twisted this is back in 2014. This is not to suggest there aren’t specific human rights abuses that occur against Palestinians and which should be addressed, but the false claim of genocide take it to an extreme, and then accusing those who don’t accept it of bring “as bad as Holocaust deniers”… that’s off the scale.

To be clear, ISIS probably would have accepted any Muslim who would supported them into their state – but like with Israel’s citizenship laws, it is irrelevant. Not only is this argument based on a false and antisemitic premise, but one can’t collectively blame the citizens of a country for the acts of their government. How much more absurd is it to blame people who have no vote in that country and are not citizens of it? While Jewish people, their partners, children and grandchildren can get Israeli citizenship with few barriers, that doesn’t make them Israeli citizens. Britain by comparison just grants automatic citizenship to children of British citizens. Hence some of the issues with politicians eligibility to sit in the Australian parliament which came up.

Even if one were to accept, for argument’s sake, that the Israeli Government were committing atrocities, the idea it is in the name of all Jews is absurd. The idea Jews should “acknowledge the atrocities committed in their name” is even more absurd. “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” is explicitly listed as one of the examples of antisemitism in the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. This is what it looks like.

The post below from another user adopts a through the looking glass view of Zionism. Rather than present a detailed analysis, you can download a draft of a book chapter I wrote on this.

This next example highlights the effort to be more inclusive to reduce the focus on Jewish victims. All the groups listed were indeed persecuted by the Nazis to different degrees, and they are often remembered in Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations. Still, it is only the Jews who were slated for total extermination. Learn more about how different groups were persecuted by the Nazis.

Finally we have an example of the political advocacy type of user.

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