General Counsel and Senior Government Advisor
I was recently asked to speak to a group of high school students in Ottawa about Holocaust denial.
The conclusion I came to surprised a few of them. I thought I would share some with you parts of the notes I wrote down for this talk.
The lessons from the Shoah are obviously important for today’s world.
There are two distinct dimensions to the Holocaust, which may seem, at first glance, to be contradictory:
- a universal dimension and
- a particular dimension.
The universal message is that any identifiable group (ethnic, national, religious, sexual or other) can be the victim of an intense and ferocious hatred, even to the point of unspeakable acts.
We can think of the Armenian genocide after the First World War, the massacres in Cambodia in the 70’s, the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Darfur show time and again what man can do to a fellow human being.
The Jews do not have a monopoly on persecution – and have never so claimed.
The specific aspect of the Holocaust is, however, that for millennia, the Jewish people have been the subject of a special hatred, one that has been called ‘the longest hatred’.
Antisemitism is different from all the other ‘isms’.
This hatred is different from other hatreds.
This hatred is timeless.
It infected the pagans of the Hellenistic world, and later on the Roman world that rejected monotheism, the very basis of Judaism.
It infected the Christian world, which could not accept the Jews’ refusal to recognize Jesus as the long awaited Messiah.
No other group has been accused of killing a god.
No other group has been accused of so many things.
In fact, antisemitism has many aspects, some of them overlapping:
- theological (Jews killed Jesus OR falsified Scriptures)
- criminal (blood libel, poisoning Palestinians)
- political (Jews control government, banks, media)
- racial (easy to understand)
- geopolitical (State of Israel)
But all those of course have a common denominator: Jew hatred.
And one can say that the aspects I just mentioned are just a ‘rationalization’ of that hatred, to put it au goût du jour.
Of course it infected Germany, which put its immense resources and talents towards the destruction of the Jewish people.
And today, the virus of virulent anti-Semitism is carried by the numerous Islamist movements throughout the world.
A Public Zachor – The role of the state/government
Unfortunately, with time, more and more survivors are passing on. The number of witnesses is decreasing and soon, there won’t be any left.
Someone has to take the relay baton – and not only the Jewish community.
We are a community who remembers. In our sacred writings, things that happened thousands and thousands years ago are remembered. It goes without saying that what happened 70 years ago is not forgotten by us – nor will it ever be.
The question is how to make sure that society at large does not forget.
You might know that I was a Member of Parliament for 9 years, in a previous life. And I wasn’t shy to use that important position to push for ideas and projects I thought important.
Holocaust remembrance was one of them.
Without survivors, without witnesses, if there is no government-sanctioned education initiatives, that opens the door to erasing this period and to denial.
If there was denial when there were witnesses, imagine when there won’t be any.
In the fall of 2003, I tabled in the House of Commons and pushed through a bill through Parliament establishing a Holocaust Memorial Day – Yom ha-Shoah in Canada.
Now, every day, there is a big national ceremony with Ministers, Members of Parliament, Senators, Ambassadors and the public to remember. And because they are there, this ceremony is covered by the general media, not only by the Jewish media.
That is a main part of a continuous education campaign. It can’t be only a Jewish remembrance thing. It has to be a general remembrance thing.
That is also why the National Holocaust Monument is important.
Canada is the only Allied power not to have a Holocaust Monument in its capital. I’m glad this is about to change.
Soon, in about a couple of years, the millions of visitors to Ottawa from Canada and elsewhere will see the Monument. And will be ‘forced’ to think about what happened then.
I am confident it will be a highlight for the visitors to the Nation’s capital. And a great education tool.
What is Holocaust denial?
Holocaust denial is an attempt to negate the established facts of the Nazi genocide of European Jewry.
It seems straightforward.
There have always been liars in the world. And there will always be liars.
First of all, the deniers call themselves ‘revisionists’. It sounds better. They deny the Holocaust by denying its three key components – the killing of 6 million, gas chambers and intentionality.
It is critical to understand that the veracity of any historical event can neither be proven nor disproven with a single fact.
The Holocaust was a myriad of events in a myriad of places and relies on myriad pieces of data that converge on one conclusion.
Minor errors or inconsistencies here and there cannot disprove the Holocaust because these lone bits of data never proved it in the first place.
As well, history and memory/opinions are different things.
For example: On September 13, 1759, British troops under General Wolfe defeated French troops under General Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City.
Wolfe’s victory was a great event that led to today’s Canada, where the British model of governance reigns, where rights and freedoms and the rule of law are observed. This is an opinion.
Wolfe’s victory was a tragedy. It crushed the French population established here, made them subjects to a foreign power and thwarted their development. This is also an opinion.
While the opinions are very different – if not contradictory – neither argues with the basic facts of the French defeat.
The way in which the facts are remembered is textured by the needs of those who are doing the remembering.
Today, a French Quebecker will learn and think about the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in a very different manner from an Anglophone living in Ottawa. And there is nothing wrong with that – as long as the basic facts are not altered and distorted.
So, how do we know the facts of the Holocaust?
- Written documents – letters, memos, blueprints, memoirs, confessions
- Eyewitness testimony – victims, bystanders, perpetrators
- The camps themselves
- Inferential data, e.g population demographics
The question is: Why are there Holocaust deniers?
Why are there people who want to deny the reality of one of the most known, researched, captured-on-images event in human history?
One big reason is obviously anti-Semitism.
If the Holocaust did not happen, then, for example:
- The Jews have been peddling lies to make the non-Jews guilty
- The Jews are liars
- The Jews, through their control of the media, of Hollywood, etc., are brainwashing people
- The Jews have guilted the West into giving them the State of Israel
- The Jews are using the supposed Holocaust to cover for the crimes of the State of Israel
In other words, the Holocaust deniers don’t have our best interests at heart…
Worse than Holocaust denial?
Without diminishing the importance of Holocaust denial in any way (remember: I am behind the official recognition in Canada of Yom haShoah and am working really hard on the Holocaust Monument project), what I see as more pernicious is the trivialization of the Holocaust.
The reasonable person assumes today (maybe it can change?) that the Holocaust did happen and that the deniers are on the fringe.
In fact, recently in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, they were studying Iran and its pursuit of nuclear armament. A witness said: the Iranians are rational, they wouldn’t want to endanger their regime. To which a Senator replied: those people are denying the Holocaust, they are denying a historical fact. How can we say then that they are rational?
In other words, the position on the Holocaust has become somewhat of a litmus test to see if people belong to the loonie bin.
What I also see as being very dangerous is the mis-use of the Holocaust by the enemies of the only Jewish State in the world.
What I see as being very dangerous is a diminution of the Holocaust, of its trivialization, of comparing the actions of Israel to Nazi Germany:
Read the news. Watch TV. See what the so-called pro-Palestinians (in fact they are more often more anti-Israel than pro-Palestinians…) are saying:
- They accuse Israel – the Jewish State – of genocide of Palestinians
- They accuse Israelis of killing pregnant women (heavy symbolism: killing a pregnant woman is killing the future)
- They accuse Israelis of giving poisoned candies to Palestinian children (same heavy symbolism as before)
- They accuse Israel of putting explosives in toys
- They say that Gaza is the new Ghetto, like Warsaw in WW II
Of course, if the Jews do that to the Palestinians, if the Jews are acting like Nazis, if they Nazify Israel, then:
- Jews can’t ‘guilt’ Europe/the West/the world etc. about WWII
- There are no negotiations possible with Israel. Because one does not negotiate with Nazis. You destroy them. You crush them. You eliminate them.
Think about it:
If Israel acts like the Nazis, (or is an apartheid state), the solution is not to encourage the Israelis to negotiate with the Palestinians, but to dismantle Israel.
If Jews/Israelis act like Nazis, are guilty of multiple crimes against humanity, their state must be eradicated.
The genesis of this strategy of delegitimizing Israel comes from the realization that Israel cannot be defeated on the battlefield. This being the case, according to its enemies, the way to destroy Israel is in the same way white-supremacist South Africa was dismantled – to attack its very legitimacy, its very right to exist.
It is to convince the world that Israel is evil incarnate.
Indeed, is there anything worse than a country that institutionalizes discrimination and racism?
Of course, such a country must be destroyed and certainly it is not to be negotiated with. Such is the logical conclusion of this argument.
In summary, the people who Nazify the Jews/the Israelis/the State of Israel have one goal: the disappearance of the only Jewish State in the world.
Isn’t it ironic? They accuse Israel of being a Nazi State while they themselves have a Nazi-like goal: the elimination of the only Jewish State. Think Iran.
By the way, the sad thing is: there are people who consider themselves normal who are buying into it.
Plus, think about the effect it has here. On us. On Jews around the world.
If Israel acts like Nazi Germany does, what does it make of us, supporters of Israel?
It makes us collaborators, accomplices to the worst crime possible and of supporting systemic human rights violations and institutionalized racism.
In other words, charging Israel with the crime of being a Nazi state (or an apartheid State) means effectively turning regular Canadian citizens into criminals. This is a blood libel of the worst kind.
What can we do about it?
- Educate ourselves and others.
You have to know about the Shoah. What lead to it. What happened during it.
You have to know – and be able to explain – that Israel is not a result of the Holocaust. In fact, the opposite is true. Had there been an Israel, the Holocaust would not have happened as Jews would have had a place to go. There would not have been a St-Louis. There was a de facto Jewish State in place, with ministries of education, of finance, of foreign affairs, etc.
You have to know who is responsible for the Shoah. Of course the Nazis and their collaborators. BUT ALSO the people who stood by and did nothing.
- Support commemoration exercises. For example, even when you’d rather stay home and surf the net or listen to your iPod on a Sunday night, go to the ceremonies organized by the community.
Part of the reason for memorializing the Shoah is to answer those who want to perpetuate it through their denial – which in itself is anti-Semitism
- Stop assuming honesty (just bc it’s written don’t make it true). There are bad people out there. Liars. Jew-haters.
- Don’t accept it on the ‘net – or anywhere
In summary, there is nobody better placed than YOU are to fight Holocaust denial, anti-Semitism and Jew hatred. No one.
It is a big responsibility. A huge responsibility. But you have what it takes to take it on.