Education Is Key To Counter Holocaust Deniers
New York Jewish Week, December 29, 2006
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the Mel Gibson of the Middle East. Just when the Sturm und Drang about “The Passion of the Christ” was beginning to fade and the buzz about Gibson’s new film was growing, the filmmaker launched into an anti-Semitic tirade on the Pacific Coast Highway.
And so it is with Ahmadinejad. Just when the discussion in so much of the world was about “flipping” Iran and drawing it into constructive discussion, Ahmadinejad launched a Holocaust denial conference. Suddenly, those who had argued that Ahmadinejad was a potential dialogue partner looked naive.
Of course, the movie-going public seems to have either forgiven Gibson his anti-Semitism or decided that it really doesn’t matter and made Apocolypto a box office hit. Similarly, the “dialogue at any price” folks may soon put Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial aside by claiming “it’s just for domestic consumption,” and insisting that we should talk to him anyway.
This “yes-but” approach – that is, yes he said it, but he didn’t mean it – reminds me of how many Americans, including much of the American press, reacted to Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitism in the 1930s. Yes, he said he was going to destroy Jewry, but he doesn’t really mean it. He is just saying these awful things about Jews to whip up support from the German people.
If the Holocaust taught us anything it is that when someone says he is going to destroy you, you must take his threats seriously. He may not mean it, but you don’t have the luxury of waiting to find out.
I am not suggesting Ahmadinejad is the equivalent of Hitler. I am suggesting that he is a man with the potential to do great damage.
The Holocaust has the dubious distinction of being the best-documented genocide in the world. Given this fact, there is no logical reason to engage in Holocaust denial except to spread anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is a form of prejudice. The etymology of the word prejudice – pre-judge—explains its basic illogical nature: don’t confuse me with the facts, I have already made up my mind. So let’s be clear: Holocaust deniers are not people who are simply misguided about history. They are anti-Semites.
Ahmadinejad’s consummate anti-Semitism—which includes his hatred of the Jewish State of Israel—explains his seemingly strategic stupidity of holding this conference when the world was on the cusp of considering him as a dialogue partner.
In most of the world overt, gutter-level denial as expressed in Iran is on the decline. However, in the Arab/Muslim world it is a growth industry. Ahmadinejad is not alone. In virtually every Arab country one can find overt denial and gutter level anti-Semitic statements published in government-controlled papers.
What, then, can we do? We do not have means to stop the dissemination of the most virulent forms of denial in the Arab/Muslim world. Our bellicose protests and condemnations do nothing but make Ahmadinejad seem more powerful in Iranians’ eyes.
We can, however, be proactive and provide people in that part of the world with information demonstrating that all Holocaust deniers’ claims are based on distortions, lies, and fabrications. We should counter deniers’ charges not with emotions and condemnations but with documented evidence.
Farsi and Arabic speakers have no information to counter statements that “gas chambers were an engineering impossibility” or “Hitler never signed an order to kill the Jews, therefore the Holocaust is a myth.”
When Holocaust denier David Irving sued me for libel for calling him a denier, my stellar defense team of lawyers and historians did not build their case on emotions. We built it on fact and assembled over 100 linear feet of documentation to expose deniers’ claims. The judge agreed and declared that deniers’ claims are a “travesty,” “unjustified” and a “perversion” of history.
It is to this end that I have assembled a team at Emory University to use the historical documentation gathered for my case, which is now available at www.hdot.org, in order to prepare factual responses to deniers’ claims. We shall design the answers to be accessible, not to the historian, but to the “person in the street.” For those who wish to delve into this material further, we shall provide links to the original documentation. Then we shall translate the responses into Farsi and Arabic and place them on the Internet. It is a massive undertaking but it is the most potent response to these lies and distortions.
The Iranian Holocaust denial conference is a mark of the deep-seated and enduring nature of anti-Semitism that drives Ahmadinejad and his cohorts. We cannot change them but we can try to keep those who might be beguiled by their claims from falling into their irrational, anti-historical, and prejudicial trap.
We can, in short, try to do what we do best. We can educate.