Following a spate of anti-Semitic incidents across Kentucky in the past year, the state’s legislature last week passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, incorporating specific examples of Jew-hatred as defined by the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance), founded in Sweden in 1998.
Thirty four countries including the United States have adopted the IHRA’s framework for identifying anti-Semitism. But the Trump Administration took the aim of countering Jew-hatred a step further.
In December 2019, President Trump signed an executive order that made Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act apply to anti-Semitic acts, which he defined based on the IHRA framework. The move was viewed by supporters as a political masterstroke, but today has been largely forgotten.
Title VI prohibits discrimination in institutions receiving federal money. By including anti-Semitic acts under the umbrella of racial discrimination, which could forfeit eligibility for government funding, Trump showed he was not content with catchphrases and slogans, but with giving the IHRA definition “teeth.”
“His order was composed of political steps that destroy the paradigm of political anti-Semitism,” wrote conservative commentator Caroline Glick.
Taking a Lesson from Purim
Kentucky’s legislature is the first in the United States to embrace the IHRA definition on the state level.
The move surprised many who viewed the series of anti-Semitic episodes in Kentucky as not extremely serious, compared with the frequency and violence of anti-Semitic episodes in states with much larger and more visible Jewish populations.
The Kentucky incidents ranged from hate-filled flyers being distributed in various neighborhoods, to vandalism at a Jewish center, a car attack and threatening phone calls made to Rabbi Shlomo Litvin, the rabbi of a Chabad Center in Louisville, Kentucky’s largest city.
Government authorities were in agreement on the need to act decisively to keep the trend from escalating, reported the Jerusalem Post. Kentucky does not have a hate crime statute on the books, which is why the state legislature’s move was considered an especially important step.
The measure was introduced by State Sen. Ralph Alvarado, and State House Reps. Dan Fister and Kelly Flood. It passed the Kentucky State House last Wednesday with no objections, and passed the state Senate with every member present signing on as a co-signer. Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, is expected to sign the measure within the week.
In the shadow of recent events which included the prolonged lockdowns that have fueled all kinds of aberrational behavior, Jew-baiting has proliferated across the globe, even in places with only sparse Jewish communities.
“The fact that this resolution condemning anti-Semitism is happening right around Purim is especially meaningful, as Purim tells the story of standing up to the genocide that Haman had planned for the Jews,” said Rabbi Litvin in an interview with JNS. “Our legacy is not just fighting Haman [back then], but fighting the Haman of every generation. It is a fight that needs to happen around the world, in the halls of Congress and on college campuses.”
The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism includes promoting classic anti-Semitic tropes such as sinister Jewish plots to control the world; claiming Jews are inherently evil; calling for Jews to be killed or harmed, blaming Jews for the world’s ills; and faulting all Jews for the actions of one individual or group.
Criminal acts are anti-Semitic, IHRA says, when the targets of attacks—whether they are people or property such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries—are selected because they are Jewish or linked to Jews.
The IHRA definition also encompasses acts of Holocaust denial, claiming Jews invented or exaggerated the magnitude of the Nazi genocide for their own self-interest.
It exposes the deceptive cloaking of anti-Semitism in the language of “anti-Zionism”—hiding Jew-hatred behind the pretense that demonizing Israel and calling for its destruction has nothing to do with hostility toward Jews.
International Rallying Point
The IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism and the increasing international support for it has become a rallying point in the effort to counter the mounting Jew-hatred that has swept the world in recent years.
The thirty-four countries that have endorsed it, include the United States, Britain, France, Germany, the European Union, the United Nations, some Muslim-majority countries, such as Bahrain and Albania, and the Iraq-based Global Imams Council. Hundreds of municipalities, universities and legislatures have separately endorsed the IHRA definition.
The definition has been a helpful tool in combating Jew-hatred because it focuses the discussion on concrete true-life examples of prejudice and bias, as opposed to allowing the parties to get sidetracked by hollow debates over whether one does or does not hate Jews.
The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism has become the “consensus standard” across the globe. In a perfect world, this would have paved the way for positive changes in the fabric of society. Yet in many of the above-listed countries, mere lip service takes the place of actual government policies that would combat the unrelenting bias against Israel and the Jewish people.
The reality is that casting Israel–and by extension the Jewish people—as oppressors and colonialists has been granted political legitimacy by the European Union and United Nations, despite their membership status in the IHRA organization.
For most of the world’s Jew-haters, Judaism, which generated Israel, is held responsible for that country’s alleged evils. The fact that Judaism includes the entire Jewish people then closes the circle of anti-Semitism, making all Jews culpable.
Moral Quandary for Estranged Jews
This equation—Judaism =Israel =racism/ apartheid—puts Jewish members of the liberal left in this country in a moral quandary, forcing them to choose between politics and principle.
As card-carrying liberals, they must choose between the “social justice” causes espoused by progressives (Democratic talking points), and Jewish values and identity which are often fundamentally incompatible with those causes.
Many left-wing Jewish liberals are so estranged from their spiritual roots that Israel inspires almost no feeling of identity or connection. Their only conflict is over how far to go in abandoning the Jewish state in the effort to promote Palestinian statehood.
That conflict was on display when the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish-American Organizations announced in late January that 51 out of the 53 groups affiliated with the umbrella group have adopted the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism.
It came as no surprise to many that all four columns of Reform Judaism —which includes most of American Jewry—accepted the definition but objected to codifying the IHRA’s recommendations into law.
The reason? Codification would entail penalties for violators. That would pose a risk to many on the left who cling to the falsehood that “anti-Israelism” can be distinguished from anti-Semitism; that you can call for the elimination of the Jewish state while also claiming you don’t hate Jews. After all, some of your best friends are Jews.
On college campuses, this disingenuous approach manifests not only in the attempts to promote boycotts of Israeli products and other BDS goals, it also plays out in activities that seek to intimidate and silence Jewish students, disrupt Jewish events by blocking doorways and passages, and engage in actions that have spilled over into violence.
This is what made President Trump’s 2019 executive order, broadening Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to apply to anti-Semitic acts, so essential. According to the executive order, institutions that allow political expression to degenerate into virulent hate can endanger their Title VI status.
Trump’s executive order took indirect aim at the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that has proliferated on U.S. campuses, relentlessly attacking the Jewish state under the cover of “support for human rights.”
The executive order sent a sobering message between the line that sanctions could also be imposed on professors and others in academia who targeted Jewish students.
White House: ‘The Biden Administration Embraces the IHRA Working Definition”
Although many of Trump’s executive orders have been rolled back by President Biden, the order linking anti-Semitic acts as defined by IHRA to Title VI criteria, has not been rescinded.
Early in February, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations commended the Biden Administration for confirming its commitment to the IHRA Working Definition of anti-Semitism.
While addressing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), U.S. Dep. Assistant Secretary of State Kara McDonald stated, “We must educate ourselves and our communities to recognize anti-Semitism in its many forms, so that we can call hate by its proper name and take effective action. That is why the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism, with its real-world examples, is such an invaluable tool.”
“As prior US Administrations of both political stripes have done, the Biden Administration embraces and champions the working definition. We applaud the growing number of countries and international bodies that apply it. We urge all that haven’t done so to do likewise,” she added.
Social Media and Holocaust Denial
Mainstream social media, which has been very slow to crack down on Holocaust denial, has been blamed for serving as a powerful mouthpiece for hate groups that preach Holocaust denial, and cast Jews as liars and frauds for exploiting the world’s sympathy.
Experts studying trends in anti-Semitism have noted that recent surges of anti-Semitism on the internet correspond with escalation in the membership of the online Holocaust denial community. The privacy and freedom from legal regulation enjoyed by cyberspace forums have enabled the mushrooming of hate sites and exponential growth of their readership.
In 2018, Mark Zuckerberg drew a sharp backlash when he defended the rights of Holocaust deniers to air their views on Facebook, saying his company would not remove content that was factually inaccurate even if it was personally offensive to him.
In August 2020, the French Jewish umbrella group CRIF urged Google, Twitter and Facebook to use the definition as a guide in barring anti-Semitic posts, while close to 130 Jewish groups and pro-Israel organizations backed a letter petitioning Facebook to adopt the IHRA definition, according to Arutz Sheva.
In Britain, the prestigious Community Security Trust (CST) said the IHRA definition “provides a useful, practical guide to identifying potentially anti-Semitic language and imagery. As such we would encourage any organization or company that may need to address complaints of anti-Semitism to use it,” the organization told Jewish News.
ADL, which for nearly a decade publicly called on Facebook to take down content that denies the Holocaust, says Facebook either refused to remove the majority of content, or did not respond.
After years of campaigning by Jewish groups and personal pleas from Holocaust survivors, Facebook reversed its defiant stance in October 2020, saying it would now treat Holocaust denial as hate speech, and ban all content that “denies or distorts the Holocaust.” Twitter immediately followed suit.
In announcing the change, Facebook said: “Our decision is supported by the well-documented rise in anti-Semitism globally and the alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust, especially among young people.”
Profit over Principle
Despite these pronouncements, Holocaust denial content remains on Facebook three months after the company’s pledge, a recent report from the ADL charges.
“I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust,” Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, wrote in a recent Facebook post. “Drawing the right lines between what is and isn’t acceptable speech isn’t straightforward,” he said.
Zuckerberg’s task was no doubt complicated by the fact that customers banned from his platform lost no time finding a less restrictive platform willing to post their diatribes.
An ADL “report card” found that “Twitch” was the most responsive platform with the most robust policies to address Holocaust denial, followed by Twitter, Google’s YouTube, and TikTok, each of whom got “C’s” for their efforts. Facebook received a “D.”
“This is truly shameful at a time when anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are spreading globally, some outrageously based on the big lie that the Holocaust never happened,” Jonathan Greenblatt of ADL said.
“Jews are bloodthirsty; the Holocaust is a myth; only a half a million Jews died in World War II, mostly from a typhus plague.” Posts of this sort remained on Facebook long after being reported to the company, an article in a British daily asserted.
“Facebook is providing people with a global platform to incite racial hatred and to deliberately spread lies that fuel anti-Semitism. They can’t just shrug their shoulders and pretend it has nothing to do with them,” a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee in Britain’s parliament lashed out.
“What is the point of them even pretending to have social responsibility if they turn a blind eye to the promotion of violence and extremism?”
First Amendment Protects Holocaust Denial
The problem for Americans in dealing with Holocaust denial is that broad interpretation by the U.S. Supreme Court of the First Amendment has made this subject, as well as the promotion of Nazi ideology and dissemination of racist and anti-Semitic speech, legal under American law.
The only limitation on such speech is that it may not cross a line into calls for violence or promoting dangerous behavior (as in shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater).
As a result, most of the online sites with neo-Nazi content originate in the United States but are available to anyone in the world with access to the internet. Since the First Amendment allows neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers to freely disseminate their views, notorious deniers have found safe refuge in the United States.
Proponents of vigorous prosecution of neo-Nazist and Holocaust deniers argue that laws criminalizing Holocaust denial are necessary to prevent the reemergence of Nazism. Neo-Nazism has particular appeal in poorer countries where unemployment and social unrest is high.
Opponents argue that such laws are incompatible with a democratic society. The hallmark of a true democracy, they argue, is not just protection of speech with which one agrees, but speech that is offensive and riddled with lies.
Put another way, a government that has the power to punish and censor lies also has the power to do so to the truth. Americans have caught a whiff of this potential abuse of power in recent days as some government leaders seek to silence dissent and shut down freedom of expression. Only time will tell whether the genie can be put back into the bottle.
‘An Honest Mistake?’
Chief Facebook executive Mark Zuckerberg rationalized not deleting Holocaust-denying posts by saying that he believed their authors were making nothing more than “an honest mistake.”
“I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong,” he said, drawing ridicule for his naiveté—real or affected. In the face of a sustained backlash, Zuckerberg has since recanted and pledged to remove Holocaust denial posts.
Almost all deniers of the Holocaust know the truth. Using deliberately falsified evidence and outright lies, deniers challenge the authenticity of eyewitness testimonies, as well as mounds of documents captured by the Allies before the Germans had a chance to destroy them.
“The Holocaust is the most thoroughly documented event in human history,” noted Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt, in a speech describing a libel case in which she was sued for calling out known Holocaust denier David Irving.
The documentation, she said, includes written orders from Hitler’s deputies to annihilate Jewish communities in Poland, leading to three million Jews being butchered, and detailed reports of mass shootings and gassings in Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine and other Nazi-occupied lands.
The undisputed evidence includes captured Nazi footage of SS troops perpetrating slaughters; captured “death registries” at Auschwitz; blueprints of the crematoria that match those in existence; orders for Zyklon B cyanide gas; photos of gassed inmates and other evidence that historians have determined to be authentic.
Photos of killing operations and their aftermath sent home by proud German soldiers give a glimmer of scale horrific scale of the atrocities, bolstered by the reports, photos and films taken by the liberators.
All of this was reinforced by the testimony of the perpetrators themselves at the 1946 Nuremberg Trials, where not one of 20 highest-ranking Nazis denied the crime of genocide. Their defense was that they were not responsible for it; they were just “following orders,” or did not personally murder anyone.
Sanitizing the Unspeakable
Most Holocaust deniers know all this but believe they can deceive the public. Their aims are usually two-fold and feed into each other. Deniers seek to sanitize the terrible crimes of Nazism in an attempt to make the system an acceptable political alternative today. This isn’t possible unless they distance Nazism from the horrors it perpetrated.
That is why discrediting the Holocaust by casting Jews as liars and frauds is an important tool for these haters, and why Jew-hatred is the flip side to Holocaust denial.
Recognizing the internet’s potential for reaching people at an unprecedented scale, Holocaust deniers were from the earliest adopters of online platforms, some as early as the 1980s. And social media’s arrival in the 2000s has vastly broadened the ability of the denial community to spread its dogma.
As the reach of neo-Nazism and Holocaust denial in our era of globalization has exponentially increased, their views are becoming more mainstream. The process is accelerated by the passing of the last Holocaust survivors and the stilling of voices that educated the world about humanity’s horrific capacity for evil.
Even with the help of Holocaust education, the staggering scale of destruction and horror, the industrialization of the slaughter, and the complicity of so many “ordinary people” in carrying out the extermination in the cruelest possible way, defy comprehension.
That descent into bestiality paired with modern-day ignorance of this dark history creates fertile ground for Holocaust deniers. It is no wonder they have been able to build a flourishing cottage industry online, and that advocates of Holocaust denial laws contend that government regulation, as well as Holocaust education, are more needed today than ever.