Many people may have thought that Holocaust denial had been relegated to the dustbins of history – discredited by historical evidence, academics, court cases and the testimonies of survivors. However, on the internet, it is alive and even flourishing, especially on social media. It is now increasingly common on mainstream Australian websites and social media platforms.
Sadly, this became all too clear on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which this year also marks 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Australian media organisations appropriately presented a variety of reports and opinion pieces relating to the Holocaust commemorations – and a shocking volume of antisemitism appeared in the comments associated with virtually all such articles.
Explaining “modern antisemitism”, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy recently said at a UN session on antisemitism:
“Today’s anti-Semitism … can operate on a large scale, convince, put fire in the brains, only by offering three shameful but new propositions.
The Jews are detestable because they are supposed to support an evil, illegitimate, murderous state…
The Jews are all the more detestable because they are supposed 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.
In so doing, the Jews would commit a third and final crime that could make them still more guilty, which is to confuse us with 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.”
All of these themes – 1. equating Israelis with Nazis and charging them with committing a Holocaust against the Palestinians; 2. condemning Holocaust commemorations (known as “competitive victimhood”) for detracting from other equally or more worthy victims of genocide; 3. Insisting that no gas chambers existed and that the number of Jewish victims has been intentionally exaggerated for Jewish propaganda purposes – were clearly evident in the comments sections of Australian websites and associated social media when articles on Holocaust commemoration appeared.
It is also important to note that (with one exception noted below) the articles researched for this report all said absolutely nothing about Israel or the Middle East – yet for numerous commenters, the response to any mention of the Holocaust was to invoke one of the three core beliefs of the modern antisemitism described by Levy.
This is not an exhaustive list of media organisations, but the following examples are clearly evidence of a serious and larger problem.
On the ABC Facebook page, under a story about Australian Holocaust survivor Eva Slonim, “Auschwitz survivor has her ‘revenge’, 70 years on from liberation”, as of Feb.10, there were at least 13 comments asserting that Israel is committing a Holocaust against the Palestinians. For example, comments (all errors in original comments) included:
“#Auschwitz happens every day in #Palestine at the very hands of those who are crying.” – January 28 at 2:15pm
“Yet Israel is doing pretty much wht the Nazis did without the gas chambers.” – January 28 at 3:05pm
There was also a positive reference to Holocaust deniers, with a person commenting:
“Try looking at what David Cole has researched,. . or David Irving, . .or the Holocaust Industry by Finklestein,. . . . ” – January 28 at 6:49pm
This is not the first time the ABC has been caught falling short in monitoring its Facebook page regarding antisemitic comments. Last year Julie Nathan, a researcher at the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, documented in an article in the Australian (22/2/14) numerous antisemitic comments that were posted on the ABC Facebook page.
The Guardian Australia Facebook page also had disturbing comments under the article “Auschwitz: a short history of the Nazi concentration camp”. As of Feb. 13, there were at least three people who invoked Holocaust denial, with comments including:
“There was no Mass murder, they didn’t gas any JEWS. History is a LIE. A tottal estimate of 125 thousand jews did die however at the hands of the Allies because they bombed Germany cutting vital supplies.” – January 27 at 8:42pm
“there must be millions of us grade a idiots as historians and just plain smart researchers have shown over and over there were no gas chambers,,,there were no more deaths than any other people in any other war…” – January 27 at 9:26pm
These commenters also posted links to websites that promoted Holocaust denial including to the Adelaide Institute [a website of “Holocaust Revisionist” Frederick Toben], and YouTube presentations by notorious Holocaust deniers.
On the left-wing website New Matilda, underneath its editorial, “Anniversary Of The Liberation Of Auschwitz Death Camps Worth Remembering” – which mentioned and strongly condemned Israel while calling to task those on the left who think the significance of the Holocaust should be downplayed out of opposition to Israel – comments questioned the number of Jewish victims and the existence of gas chambers. As of Feb. 17 these comments included:
“Suffice it to say that, in my opinion, the evidence of ‘homicidal gas chambers’ is flimsy and has been unable to withstand rational scrutiny…” – Feb. 1
“there is only documented evidence that around 580K Jews died, as opposed to the 6 million figure claimed in every bit of pernicious Zionist MSM propaganda of the past 70 years. There’s going to be lot of very angry people globally when these facts become known & accepted widely….” – Feb. 2
On the Herald Sun website, beneath the article, “70 years on: the horrors of Auschwitz continue to haunt us”, the following comments remained on the website as of Feb.18:
“And what about the Palestinians? Israel doent seem to mind slaughtering them. Double standards and hypocrites. You also never hear about the Holodomor or the 60+ million Christian Russians slaughtered by the Bolsheviks, whose leaders were of the same race/religion. And the ‘six million’ number was around well before WW1 and espoused as a necessary number to be sacrificed to further the cause of establishing Israel/Zionism…” – Jan. 29, 2015
Facebook says it bans hate speech but has refused to ban Holocaust denial, stating “We recognise people’s right to be factually wrong about historical events.” This position ignores the reality that Holocaust denial is a form of hate speech, as Deborah Lauter, the Anti-Defamation League’s director of civil rights and its cyber-hate response team has explained, “It’s anti-Semitism per se because it serves as a powerful conspiracy theory that basically says the Jews have manipulated history to advance their own worldview, whether to create sympathy or world domination.”
However, in Australia, Holocaust denial material has been found to be a breach of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Therefore, Australian organisations that enable such content on their websites or on their social media platforms could arguably be liable for hosting such content. And regardless of Facebook’s policy, they can certainly delete such comments if they wish.
In this time of heightened antisemitism, especially following this year’s deadly antisemitic attacks in Paris and Denmark, and reports documenting record numbers of antisemitic attacks in Europe, numerous political leaders have stressed there must be not only condemnations of antisemitism, but more importantly, commitments to action. Antisemitism, including Holocaust denial, is proliferating on social media. On media websites, it seems one cannot mention anything related to Jews, including the Holocaust, without it bursting out. Australian media organisations have both a legal and moral obligation to do more to remove hate speech from their websites and social media platforms.