jlink
Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Deborah Lipstadt

“The failure here is not a mistaken view of history, but a failure to understand that Holocaust denial is essentially anti-Semitism.”

He is one of the most influential people in the world not to “get” that Holocaust denial is anti-Semitism.

The “he” in this case is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

The person discussing Zuckerberg with The Jewish Link is Deborah Lipstadt, inarguably one of the world’s leading Holocaust scholars with a special expertise in Holocaust denial. Lipstadt was depicted on film in the movie “Denial,” which dramatized her experience facing the British legal system in proving that the Holocaust happened, against the inflammatory Holocaust denier David Irving.

Zuckerberg said during a podcast interview with the digital platform Recode Decode that he would not remove Facebook pages or posts denying the Holocaust. He said, instead, that he would push the post down so that it wouldn’t go viral.

“I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong,” Zuckerberg said during the podcast. “I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

“It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent,” added Zuckerberg. “I just don’t think that it is the right thing to say ‘we’re going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times.’”

In an interview with The Jewish Link, Lipstadt said that Holocaust denial presents a very dark side of social media. “I love social media. I do my research on the internet. But it comes with a downside,” she said.

“Zuckerberg,” she added, “is an influential, important guy. He created a social media platform that is very important and has billions of users. This is not something to brush off.”

Lipstadt made it clear that by Zuckerberg saying that Holocaust deniers aren’t “intentionally getting it wrong,” he leaves the possibility open that they could be right. She clarified that it is only possible to be a Holocaust denier with full intentions. It is no accident.

Lipstadt is the author of the 1993 book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.” The book has through the years become required reading on the subject of denial. In 2000, she was sued for libel by David Irving, a British “historian” whom she described as a denier in her book. Lipstadt and her British defense team won the landmark suit. It then became the plot of the 2016 film “Denial,” in which the character of Lipstadt was played by Rachel Weisz.

Today, Lipstadt is the Dorot Professor of Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. She is also the author of the forthcoming “Antisemitism: Here and Now.” In a recent CNN article, she schooled her audience on the fact that Holocaust denial is not history, but rather anti-Semitism. “Holocaust denial is not about history. A form of anti-Semitism, it’s about attacking, discrediting and demonizing Jews,” she explained.

Lipstadt told The Jewish Link that Holocaust deniers are not the latest members of the “Earth Is Flat Society” or the “Elvis-Is-Still-Alive” club. They are, she said, white supremacists and anti-Semites. “Their agenda is to reinforce and spread the very hatred that produced the Holocaust,” she said.

But can Zuckerberg or any social media platform stuff Holocaust denial back into the bottle and put a cork on it once it comes out?

“You can try,” she told The Jewish Link. “But it is difficult. I think what Zuckerberg said shows a level of failure to understand what Holocaust denial is all about. The failure here is not a mistaken view of history, but a failure to understand that Holocaust denial is essential anti-Semitism. It’s all about false statements that Jews made up the Holocaust to get money or made it up to get a state and get the Allies to do their bidding. Then they’ll tell you that they got Germany to accept the responsibility for this crime, and so it shows the power of the Jews. This is anti-Semitism in a pseudo-intellectual historical guise.”

She called the Holocaust deniers “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who try to come across as “respectable academics.”

In a TED Talk she gave on the subject, Lipstadt told the audience in succinct terms that “there are facts, opinions and there are lies. Deniers want to take their lies, dress them up as opinions and then those opinions encroach on the facts.”

Social media, she would add, “for all the gifts it has given us,” has also allowed the difference between facts and lies to be flattened.”

Lipstadt also told The Jewish Link that the First Amendment isn’t a reason for social media platforms such as Facebook to grant falsehoods digital space, and especially those that incite hate. “The First Amendment speaks of the right of an individual to be free of government’s control of freedom of speech,” she told The Jewish Link. “It says nothing about a private entity’s obligation to give everyone free speech. Do you have a right to demand of the New York Times that they must print your letter because to do otherwise would stifle your freedom of speech? Clearly not.”

Zuckerberg would go on to walk back part of his Recode interview when he sent an email to the tech site reporter who interviewed him saying, “I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.”

Zuckerberg would also get recent support from his sister Randi Zuckerberg, who denounced Holocaust deniers, but said that keeping them off of social media “will not make them go away.” Randi Zuckerberg served as director of marketing for Facebook and is the founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media.

A Jewish community activist herself, Zuckerberg has suggested that a debate would be appropriate on the deniers’ right to a social media platform.

But, Lipstadt noted, that there’s no debating the lies of a denier. “We’ve been taught everything is open for debate,” she said. “But that’s not the case here. There are certain things that are true. These are indisputable facts, objective truths.”

And those truths, she added, must be defended now.

“Later will be too late.”

By Phil Jacobs