Holocaust denial and the internet

Everyone conscious of the importance of the free exchange of views is hesitant about banning people's views. But Holocaust denial is different

Auschwitz Birkenau
Michael Curtis
On 21 February 2014 08:03

A new specter is haunting the world, the specter of the internet. Through Facebook, You Tube, Twitter, and web sites, images and sounds reach people on a scale much larger and previously unimaginable than the printed media has ever attained. Everyone today can be a writer or an artist if one joins one of the networks, and anyone on the globe can read or see those messages.

It is now much more difficult to have the capacity to monitor published words and images for criminal messages on the different sites. The very scale of the internet makes the need for vigilance more acute. To what extent and by what means can the problems of electronic hate, disinformation, and global dissemination of malicious transmissions be exorcized?

At first glance, one is faced with the issue of free speech, and the importance of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech and expression.

Everyone conscious of the importance of the free exchange of views is hesitant about banning statements, however outrageous, or is unwilling to engage in censorship or disassociation. The famous words of Voltaire in his letter of February 6, 1770 to M. Le Riche, still echo: “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”

A recent event seems to challenge Voltaire’s generally accepted defense of free speech. On February 14, 2014 the Belgium League against Antisemitism (LBCA), that had been launched in Brussels only two weeks earlier, contacted Google to protest about videos on its You Tube website in Belgium that were expressions of denial of the Holocaust.

These videos were produced by a man named Vincent Reynouard. Google promptly took them off the site. While it would outwardly seem to be a denial of his free speech, Reynouard was actually guilty of a criminal act and Google was observing the law by deleting his videos.

It should be noted, parenthetically, that Voltaire, a great and important writer, was himself guilty of hate messages by making antisemitic remarks.

Reynouard, a 45 year old Frenchman who fled to Belgium to avoid incarceration in France for his hate proclamations, is a chemical engineer who describes himself as “Catholic, National Socialist (Nazi), and Revisionist.”  

He is notorious for having been tried in France and convicted on a number of occasions. Over and over again he has disputed the fact that crimes against humanity were committed against Jews. He has denied the existence of the “alleged” Holocaust which he calls a myth and the Nazi use of gas chambers. His hero is Adolf Hitler who “embodied the hope of Europe in the face of the ruinous ideals of 1789.”

Not only did You Tube USA respond immediately to the LBCA criticism by removing Reynouard’s videos from its Belgium network. It also removed another video that had been shown, the “Jewish Harlem Shake.” This video showed religious Jews dancing, and behind them a chimney out of which came large columns of smoke, an obvious evocation of the chimneys of the Nazi extermination camps.

The actions of You Tube were in accordance with Belgium laws, one passed on  July 30, 1981 against racism and xenophobia, and one on March 23, 1995 against public denial of the Holocaust.

The latter law bans utterances that deny, grossly minimize, attempt to justify, or approve the genocide committed by Nazi Germany during World War II. It imposes a penalty for convictions of prison up to one year, and a fine up to 2,500 euros.

Belgium is one of a number of European countries, including Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Poland, and Romania, that have passed laws making denial of the Holocaust or expounding antisemitic beliefs a criminal offence. These laws all stem from the August 8, 1945 London Charter or Agreement that established the International Military Tribunal for the trial at Nuremberg and punishment of the major war criminals, mainly Nazis, of the European Axis.

The charges were crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

It is the inclusion of crimes against humanity in the Charter that pertains to antisemitism. Furthermore, the laws in various countries reflect the definition of crimes against humanity established by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court of July 17, 1998.

The Rome edict states that those crimes are “particularly odious offenses in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation, or a degradation of human beings.”

The European Court of Human Rights on June 24, 2003 went further in concluding that denying or minimizing the Holocaust has to be seen as one of the most acute forms of racial slandering or incentives to hatred towards the Jews.

Antisemitism is incompatible with democracy and human rights.

Even the UN General Assembly, on January 26, 2007, adopted by consensus vote a resolution condemning without reservation any denial of the Holocaust, and urged all member states to reject any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event or any activities to this end.

The U.S. representative had hoped the GA would go even further and stress that to deny the events of the Holocaust was tantamount to approval of genocide in all its forms.

Holocaust denial is not protected by freedom of speech, nor can freedom of speech be used to dispute punishment for crimes against humanity. Laws passed and courts in a number of European countries have accepted this point of view and acted accordingly.

Probably the most well known law is the French Gayssot Law of July 13, 1990, a law whose constitutionality has been upheld by the French Constitutional Court. It makes it an offence to question the existence of crimes against humanity, racist, antisemitic, xenophobic acts. It forbids any discrimination founded on membership or non-membership of an ethnic group, a nation, a race, or a religion.

France has acted on this statute on a number of occasions. A court in 1990 convicted and fined Robert Faurisson, the first major French Holocaust denier, for describing gas chambers as a myth.

The French High Court in May 2000 ordered Yahoo to stop allowing auction sales of memorabilia from the Nazi period on its web site. To do otherwise would be contrary to the French Criminal Code that forbids the wearing or exhibiting of insignias or emblems which recall those used by the Nazis or persons found guilty of crimes against humanity.

Most recently, on February 12, 2014, a French court ordered the performer Dieudonné M’bala M’bala to remove two sections of a video he had posted on You Tube on the grounds that they contained antisemitic remarks, Holocaust denial, and incitement to racial hatred.

Notorious figures, such as David Irving, Fred Leuchter, David Duke, Ernest Zündel, Robert Faurisson, and the malevolent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, all Holocaust deniers, should be required to abide by the law of the countries in which they post messages and should be held accountable if they break them.

But the problem now facing electronic media corporations is how to establish mechanisms to monitor their websites for such illegal hate postings.

This is not censorship or limitation of free speech. The corporations have a duty to uphold laws that prevent hate from taking over cyberspace. They should prevent the electronic media from being available for such hatred and antisemitic diatribes. This is a legal obligation as well as a moral principle.

Michael Curtis, author of "Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East", is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in political science at Rutgers University. Curtis, the author of 30 books, is widely respected as an authority on the Middle East.

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