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The liberal defence of Holocaust denial: A critical examination


Published onApr 07, 2024
The liberal defence of Holocaust denial: A critical examination

This paper takes issue with the prevalent American stand on Holocaust denial. It explains why Holocaust denial is, in fact, hate speech, why liberal views on this speech are erroneous, and why there is a need to bar Holocaust denial by law. It is argued that while education is a key in fighting ignorance, education alone may not suffice in fighting against historical denial and distortion aimed at promoting hatred and violence against targeted minorities. After distinguishing Holocaust denial from Holocaust distortion, the arguments put forward by Noam Chomsky, a free speech absolutist, and others are examined. The last section explains why Holocaust denial should be barred. Lack of education, ignorance, the changing modes of communication, the fact that many people receive information via tailored channels, the abundance of lies and fake news, the growing presence of Holocaust denial on the internet, the shrinking number of Holocaust survivors, the increasing number of racist incidents and particularly of anti-Semitic incidents – all these factors should be reckoned with.

Key words: Holocaust denial, Holocaust distortion, liberal defence, hate speech, free speech absolutism, Noam Chomsky, legal bar


Freedom of expression is a very important principle and value. However, it is not without limits. Freedom of expression is not a licence to promote violence and to incite murder. Freedom of expression must be balanced against a no less important principle: social responsibility. This need is not always recognised by liberals.

The United States is the ‘Land of the Free’. Freedom is of utmost importance for Americans. Freedom of speech and of the press are enshrined in the First Amendment to the constitution that holds: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’1 Some liberals who believe that the First Amendment should be followed absolutely to the letter interpret this to mean almost limitless freedom of speech (Baker 1989). Indeed, the United States is the only country in the world where people are free to hate on whatever grounds. Due to its importance as the indisputable leader of the free world, the United States has immense influence in dictating boundaries to free expression online and offline.

Holocaust denial is shielded by the First Amendment. Generally speaking, American liberals are not troubled by this speech. They underestimate the importance of this speech and think that all that needs to be done is to contest this falsehood with facts, provide education and mitigate the problem (Dworkin 2006). They are oblivious to the fact that the scope of Holocaust denial has grown and that its insidious influence has deepened and found new crowds. American liberals are not altogether convinced that Holocaust denial is a form of hate speech (Gibbons 2018).

However, Holocaust denial is far from being innocent. The UN Human Rights Committee held in Robert Faurisson v. France (1996) that ‘Holocaust denial may constitute a form of incitement to anti-Semitism’. France argued that ‘the denial of the Holocaust by authors who qualify themselves as revisionists could only be qualified as an expression of racism and the principal vehicle of anti-Semitism’. It fuels hatred ‘since it accuses the Jews of having fabricated themselves the myth of their extermination’. According to deniers, it was not Germany that acted in a criminal way. Instead, the greatest criminals were the Jews. The Jews were so evil that they invented this horrific story to gain support around the world. Deniers speak of an international Jewish conspiracy to blackmail Germany and other nations, to exploit others and to create Israel (Faurisson 1980). Deniers depict a picture by which Jews conspired to create the greatest fabrication of all times.

In this paper, I take issue with the prevalent American stand on Holocaust denial. I explain why it is hate speech, why liberal views on this speech are erroneous, and why there is a need to bar Holocaust denial by law. It is argued that while education is a key in fighting ignorance, education alone might not suffice in fighting against historical denial and distortion aimed at promoting hatred and violence against targeted minorities. Legislation to bar Holocaust denial is in order. It is noted that Israel and several European countries adopted legislation criminalising the Nazi message, including denial of the Holocaust (Bazyler 2021).

After explaining why Holocaust denial qualifies as hate speech and distinguishing it from Holocaust distortion, I examine the arguments put forward by Noam Chomsky, a free speech absolutist who upholds the dictum that Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech and who believes that no law means no law, and that falsehood should be fought with truth. For absolutists, once you abridge free speech, you start to erode democracy. Chomsky, who is both of Jewish heritage and an anti-Zionist, advocates for Holocaust deniers’ right to express their views. Free speech absolutists believe that the concept of freedom of expression encompasses the acceptance of falsehoods, distortions, offensive remarks and hate speech. Free speech is regarded as the foundation of a democratic society. For Dworkin (2009), any limitation imposed on free speech can lead to the erosion of democracy.

The last section of this paper explains why Holocaust denial should be barred. Lack of education, ignorance, the changing modes of communication, the fact that many people – especially young people – receive information via tailored channels, the abundance of lies and fake news, the growing presence of Holocaust denial on the internet, the shrinking number of Holocaust survivors, the increasing number of racist incidents and particularly of anti-Semitic incidents – all these factors should be reckoned with.

This paper is part of a campaign I have been conducting to promote legislation against Holocaust denial. Throughout the past year, I have dedicated my efforts to writing a comprehensive series of pieces on the challenge that Holocaust denial is posing. The initial piece addressed the alarming issue of schoolteachers who propagate the false narrative that the Holocaust never took place. I argued against this misuse of the educator’s role and stressed the importance of preventing such distortions from spreading (Cohen-Almagor 2023).

In my second piece, I delved into the historical origins of Holocaust denial and shed light on the factors that contribute to the perpetuation of this dangerous denial (Cohen-Almagor 2024a).

My third piece tackles the issue of hate within Holocaust denial. It is essential to confront the hateful ideologies that underpin this denialism as they perpetuate discriminatory attitudes and dehumanise targeted groups. By exposing the harm embedded in Holocaust denial we promote a more inclusive society (Cohen-Almagor 2024b).

A fourth piece, under consideration by another journal, probes an intriguing parallel between the arguments put forth by liberal- absolutists for unlimited free speech and those espoused by Holocaust deniers. I draw attention to the similarities in their reasoning, urging readers to analyse critically the potential consequences of such rhetoric (Cohen-Almagor 2024c, forthcoming).

In the fifth article, in the process of writing, I argue that banning hate speech promotes democracy (Cohen-Almagor, forthcoming). The litmus test of a decent or civilised liberal democracy is the status of minorities. I argue that liberal democracies should protect vulnerable minorities by taking active steps to restrict hate speech in the form of Holocaust denial.

Hate speech, Holocaust denial and Holocaust distortion

Hate speech poses a significant challenge in modern society. Hate speech, including Holocaust denial, manifests as bias-motivated, hostile and malicious speech that targets individuals or groups based on their perceived innate characteristics. This form of expression expresses discriminatory, intimidating, antagonistic and prejudicial attitudes towards those with characteristics such as sex, race, religion, ethnicity, colour, national origin, disability and sexual orientation (Cohen- Almagor 2011).2 Holocaust denial goes beyond simple disagreement or questioning historical facts. It promotes hatred against a specific group based on their religion and ethnicity. By underestimating and justifying atrocities, genocide and evil, denial inadvertently legitimises racism under the guise of pursuing ‘truth’. While freedom of speech is valued, not all forms of speech, such as Holocaust denial, deserve protection.

Holocaust denial is an example of hate speech, perpetuating a false narrative that ‘the Jews’ created an elaborate hoax to exploit nations and falsely accuse Germany of planning and executing a genocide against their people (Butz 1977, 1982). The Zionists twisted everything. The Zionists inflated the number of dead people in order to swindle the Germans and the world at large (Weber 1988; Lipstadt 1993: 54- 56). The American David Duke (Fox News 2015) has argued that the Holocaust is a tool employed by Zionists to deny the rights of Palestinians and cover up Israel’s crimes.3 Holocaust denial not only victimises Jews by belittling the horrors of Nazi Germany, but it also attempts to portray them as sinister manipulators with ulterior motives. Deniers claim that many of the Jews survived the war. They left Europe. Many of them moved to the United States, the Soviet Union and to Israel (Lipstadt 1993: 66, 135). American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell called the Holocaust ‘a monstrous and profitable fraud’ (ibid: 66).

Holocaust deniers depict Jews as malevolent and cunning individuals. They argue that the Holocaust is the product of partisan Jewish interests, serving Jewish greed and hunger for power (Harwood 1974). Holocaust deniers accuse some self-proclaimed ‘survivors’ of spreading false narratives about gas chambers and extermination machinery to extort and deceive. According to the deniers, Jews are demonic and crooked people who concocted this unbelievable tragic story. For their extortion and fabrication, for creating the greatest conspiracy of all times, they deserve punishment. In effect, the ultimate purpose of Holocaust denial is to legitimise another Holocaust against Jews (Cohen-Almagor 2009).4

Robert Faurisson, another Holocaust denier, warned that historical lies breed hatred, zealousness and conflict. He predicted a bleak future for Jews, suggesting that they would face hostility once again and be forced to leave Israel, returning to countries that have been influenced by what he perceived as their manipulative Holocaust propaganda. Faurisson cautioned: ‘Historical lies breed hatred, a crusading zeal, and war’. His article, ‘An imaginary Holocaust may lead to a real Holocaust’ (2001), revealed his deep-seated hatred and contempt for Jews. He spoke of a mythical collective Jew, resenting their perceived control and influence:

So the wandering Jew is about to hit the road again. In nearly every place he has sojourned, his conduct has aroused the revolt of the host population, which has finally ordered him to choose between the suitcase and the coffin. In today’s Israel, he will soon have need to pack his suitcase. He will make his way back to the rich lands that have been brainwashed by his holocaustic propaganda. Bewailing a second ‘Holocaust’ and a third Destruction of the Temple will suffice: then he’ll demand new reparations, new privileges. The Shoah business and Holocaust industry will renew their vigor, this time, however, at risk of reaching the saturation point.

Faurisson (2000) found it difficult to hide his hatred and contempt for the Jews. He spoke of ‘the Grand Sanhedrin (parliament) made up of the priests, doctors and other worthies of Jewish Law enforcement’ who came together to silence him. In a piece titled ‘Paying tribute to Jewish power. “Ah, how sweet it Is to be Jewish ...”’, featured in one of the few journals that agreed to publish his views, Faurisson (1998) argued that it was ‘sweet’ to be Jewish in the present era, contending that organised Jewry determined what could be published and publicly said. Faurisson (1998) maintained: ‘As for the rest of us, we do not even have the right publicly to mutter: “Ah, how grievous it is not to be Jewish at the end of this 20th century!’’’ Faurisson (2000) sought to distance the Holocaust from non-Jews, asserting that it was solely a Jewish construction fabricated to advance Jewish interests and businesses. This viewpoint represents a dangerous form of denial that can fuel anti-Semitism and perpetuate discrimination.

Some scholars differentiate between Holocaust denial and Holocaust distortion. While denial aims to negate established facts about the genocide of Jews during the Second World War, distortion recognises certain aspects of the Holocaust while simultaneously excusing, downplaying or misrepresenting it. Distortion tends to underestimate victim numbers, inflate the number of rescuers, and downplay the collaboration of others and the widespread complicity in the genocide (UNESCO 2022a).

I have been teaching core modules in Politics for many years. Every year, leading publishers in Britain send me their textbooks. It is common practice for publishers to request integration of their texts into core modules. One of the books claimed that five million Jews were killed by the Nazis. No reference was provided. I promptly wrote to the publisher, saying that I will not include the book in any of my modules nor will I recommend it to my colleagues and library as long as this unsupported figure features in the book. This textbook is an example of Holocaust distortion. Holocaust distortion acknowledges aspects of the Holocaust as factual but, at the same time, it excuses, minimises or misrepresents the Holocaust.

Liberals in the service of Holocaust deniers

Ernst Zündel, who, in 2007, was jailed for five years for Holocaust denial, like many purveyors of hate, presented himself as a champion of free expression, dedicated to advancing truth and knowledge without any limitations on individual speech. During his trial in Canada, Zündel invited ‘expert witnesses’ to provide an alternative depiction of Auschwitz, casting doubt on the experiences of Holocaust survivors and even suggesting that the death camp was akin to a resort (Cohen-Almagor 2013). Survivors were understandably alarmed by the sensational headlines that ensued. Holocaust deniers often relish engaging in debates on the matter. For instance, Barbara Kulaszka (1994) advocated for settling the ‘debate’ about the Holocaust through open inquiry and discussion in scholarly journals, newspapers and classrooms. Faurisson appealed to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) complaining that French hate speech law (the ‘Gayssot Act’ of 1990) curtailed his right to freedom of expression and academic freedom in general, and that the law targeted him personally (‘lex Faurissonia’). In his opinion (Robert Faurisson v. France, 1996), the law ‘constitutes unacceptable censorship, obstructing and penalizing historical research’.

In the name of freedom of speech and the pursuit of truth, Holocaust deniers and free speech absolutists (the latter believe that the liberal society should be neutral regarding all conceptions of the good, even if those conceptions are not good), argue that there is a marketplace of ideas for hearing different and contradicting opinions.5 Through the battles of words and the free market of opinions the liberal truth will eventually gain the upper hand over the vile speech (Dworkin 1983, 1985, 1986, 2002). But this does not mean that unrestricted speech is inherently desirable and that more speech is always better. Absolutists who encourage more speech fantasise that the ties that bind us together will somehow be refreshed merely because we speak to each other more freely. But, as Robert Post (2023) argues, this is an illusion, ‘a cruel mirage cast by the allure of a free speech principle that has somehow floated free from the social practices in which it should be embedded’. Hate-mongers tend to post their thoughts on websites that are hubs of racist and discriminatory ideas. Their speech is likely to generate more hate speech by like-minded racists who abhor the ideas of dignity and equality for all. More such speech would not enhance society in any positive way. Such anti-social speech incites more hatred and violence.

Absolutists unwittingly come to the service of deniers, granting their denial of history legitimacy to compete in the marketplace of ideas (Spiegel International 2007). Ronald Dworkin (2009) was willing to pay a price for political legitimacy no matter how foul and vicious the hate-monger’s speech was. Dworkin wrote: ‘It is as unfair to impose a collective decision on someone who has not been allowed to contribute to that moral environment, by expressing his political or social convictions or tastes or prejudices informally, as on someone whose pamphlets against the decision were destroyed by the police.’

Noam Chomsky (1986) came to Faurisson’s help in his legal battles in France by signing a petition urging that Faurisson’s civil rights be respected. He also wrote the Preface to Faurisson’s book (Chomsky 1981). Chomsky (1986) explained that he signed the petition because he believed that people had the right of freedom of expression ‘whatever their views are, that the importance of defending these rights is all the greater when the person expresses views that are abhorrent to virtually everyone (as in this case), and that this becomes particularly important when the person in question is thrown out of his academic position’. Yet Chomsky (1986), by his own admission, knew very little about Faurisson’s work. Chomsky (1986) wrote that ‘the fact that a person is universally denounced does not suffice for me to join in the parade without at least looking at what he has to say, which I had not done in this case and had no particular interest in doing’ (my emphasis). Chomsky has a history of not joining parades. He is an independent thinker, with an independent mind that brings him to say things that others do not rush to say. But usually he is looking at what others say before establishing an opinion about their saying. In this case, however, he had no interest to read Faurisson (Chomsky does not explain why); still, he came to his defence without apparently knowing what exactly he was defending. Chomsky defended an abstract absolutist Free Speech Principle in a very concrete case. This carte blanche to freedom of speech is utterly irresponsible as Chomsky defends the right to free speech with no knowledge of the speech content. Bizarrely, Chomsky (1986) wrote that the nature of Faurisson’s views was ‘plainly, completely irrelevant to the issue of his right to express them, a truism among civil libertarians that those of a Stalinist-fascist persuasion find quite shocking’. Chomsky should ‘at least’ have looked at what Faurisson had to say if only to avoid the possibility that he did not call for illegal acts that Chomsky did not approve.

It is noted that most liberals do inquire about the content of speech before defending it. The Free Speech Principle does have many exceptions for which many liberals acknowledge their necessity. Take, for instance, Alexander Meiklejohn (1965: 68-70), the great American champion of freedom of expression. Meiklejohn believed that free speech was indispensable to democratic deliberation and, at the same time, emphasised that every citizen had a right to dignity, ‘the dignity of men who govern themselves’. Self-government was possible only when there was mutual respect among citizens who perceived each other as free and equal individuals engaging in a common enterprise.

Furthermore, most liberals acknowledge that several costly categories of expression are excluded from the scope of tolerance and the protection of the Free Speech Principle. These categories include purposefully- made false statements of facts such as libel, defamation or fraud (Richards 1986; Schauer 2003-2004; Heyman 2008); incitement (Mill 1948); privacy (Solove and Schwartz 2020; Martin 2016; Moore 2003); sedition and other expressions that threaten state security (Barendt 2005); true threats (Rothman 2001; Karst 2006); hard pornography that makes use of minors and animals, and that involves rape (Bryce 2010; Stapelton 2010); revenge pornography (Koppelman 2016; Phippen and Brennan 2020); copyright violations (Barendt 2005; Netanel 2018) and, to a lesser extent ‘fighting words’ (Greenawalt 1995),6 and commercial speech (liberals believe in the free market of products but many of them are not willing to have these freely promoted in the marketplace of ideas) (Shiner 2004). Also, certain symbolic speeches conceived to be particularly hurtful are not always protected (in Germany there are laws that prohibit the wearing of Nazi uniform and the public display of Nazi symbols; in the US a man was convicted during the Vietnam war for burning draft cards).7 Of course, in order to assess the seriousness of the offence, in each and every case one needs to be well versed in the content of speech, something that Chomsky was reluctant to do for some reason. Perhaps this has to do with Faurisson’s blunt anti- Zionism. Paul Berman (2018) explains that, in practice, Zionism outrages Chomsky. Chomsky’s ‘anti-Israelism’ leads him to seek out a virtue in even the worst of Israel’s enemies. Chomsky refused to castigate Faurisson and his refusal rests, Berman thinks, on his critique of Israel.

Chomsky (1986) defended free expression on the grounds that the state has no right to determine historical truth and to punish deviation from it. Chomsky (1981) asserted: ‘One who defends the right of free expression incurs no special responsibility to study or even be acquainted with the views expressed.’ Chomsky (ibid) testified that he had ‘frequently gone well beyond signing petitions in support of East European dissidents subjected to repression or threats, often knowing little and caring less about their views (which in some cases I find obnoxious ...)’. Chomsky (ibid) maintained that he even wrote in 1969 that ‘it would be wrong to bar counter-insurgency research in the universities, though it was being used to murder and destroy’, admitting that this is a position that ‘I am not sure I could defend’. This is curious. If Chomsky himself could not defend that view, then why raise it? Is it only to raise controversy and play a devil’s advocate for the sake of argument? Unclear. Also very curious is to read the Preface to Faurisson’s book, where Chomsky (1980) wrote: ‘I am concerned here solely with a narrow and specific topic, namely, the right of free expression of ideas, conclusions and beliefs. I have nothing to say here about the work of Robert Faurisson or his critics, of which I know very little, or about the topics they address, concerning which I have no special knowledge.’ Yet, later in the same Preface, Chomsky (ibid) wrote: ‘As far as I can determine, he is a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort.’ One wonders on what basis Chomsky had determined this.

Chomsky implied that Faurisson was a scientific-minded researcher, with findings that ought to be accorded the respect normally accorded to any authentically scientific researcher (Berman 2018). He refutes the assertion that Holocaust denial is incompatible with democracy and human rights because it incites racial hatred. He also disagrees that Holocaust deniers are anti-Semitic. When he learned that Faurisson denied the existence of gas chambers, Chomsky (circa 1989-1991) insisted that that did not prove that he was an anti-Semite: ‘A person might believe that Hitler exterminated 6 million Jews in some other way without being an anti-Semite.’ This is red-herring. Faurisson also disputes the six million figure, but Chomsky would not know as he did not read Faurisson. People might believe many things but the issue is not what ‘people’ might believe in. The issue was Faurisson’s belief. He did not believe that there were gas chambers and he also did not believe that six million Jews were murdered. Moreover, Faurisson’s intentions were quite clear. All Chomsky needed to do was to read him but Chomsky preferred to rush to Faurisson’s assistance not knowing what he actually wrote.

Chomsky (ibid) then maintained: ‘Even denial of the Holocaust would not prove that a person is an anti-Semite ... if a person ignorant of modern history were told of the Holocaust and refused to believe that humans are capable of such monstrous acts, we would not conclude that he is an anti-Semite.’ Again, that was not the issue with Faurisson. Faurisson was highly appreciative of Nazi capabilities and efficiency. He did not denounce any of their acts, notwithstanding how monstrous they were. At the same time, he believed that Jews were capable of inventing the Holocaust ‘hoax’. Jews, in his opinion, were capable of making many monstrous acts. Chomsky’s arguments are mere empty rhetoric.

Chomsky (ibid) further wrote that denial of monstrous atrocities, whatever their scale, ‘does not in itself suffice to prove that those who deny them are racists vis-a-vis the victims’. According to him (ibid), ‘everyone constantly accepts’ this argument. I do not know who else, besides Chomsky, accepts this argument. From the literature and the amount of criticisms that Chomsky received due to his defence of Faurisson one can clearly conclude that not ‘everyone’ accepted this.

Chomsky’s reasoning is full of contradictions. On one hand he wrote that ‘Faurisson’s conclusions are diametrically opposed to views I hold and have frequently expressed in print’ (Chomsky 1981). This suggests that he did read Faurisson. This also suggests that he came to Faurisson’s aid due to his belief in absolute free speech. But then Chomsky (ibid) wrote that he was accused of being a defender of the right to mock facts, adding ‘“facts” determined, presumably, by some board of commissars or a reconstituted Inquisition’. The mocking of facts may suggest that Chomsky himself doubted the accepted, verified facts regarding the Holocaust. Furthermore, Chomsky (ibid) asserted that ‘No rational person will condemn a book, however outlandish its conclusions may seem, without at least reading it carefully; in this case, checking the documentation offered, and so on.’ But this is what Chomsky said he did not do. He claimed he did not read Faurisson. Many people did read Faurisson and were horrified by his detestable and false assertions. This is why they took him to court. Somehow, it does not occur to Chomsky that he, a rational person, should have carefully checked the documentation offered before rushing to aid Faurisson.

Faurisson and other Holocaust deniers were quick to embrace Chomsky. They published his essay in their flagship journal and celebrated his support for them. They themselves have little interest in defending democracy. Many of them are admirers of Adolf Hitler and Nazism, and would be happy to see the rise of the Fourth Reich, a racist, totalitarian regime. The convergence of free speech defence between absolutists and hate mongers is a perfect example of what I call the ‘Democratic Catch’: that the very principles of democracy might bring about its destruction (Cohen-Almagor 1994).

Why Holocaust denial should be barred?

Until recently, I thought that countries that were not occupied by the Nazis need not necessarily legislate against Holocaust denial. I did not think there was any urgency on their part to resort to legislation. Research conducted in the past few years has caused me to change my mind. I now think that countries such as the United Kingdom should ban Holocaust denial that is utilised as a major instrument to foment antisemitism and disturb public order. Ambassador Neil Bush (2023) said: ‘Holocaust distortion feeds the despicable scourge of antisemitism, which has no place in any society. We must continue to stand against it in all its forms, and to reject any attempts to deny the facts of the Holocaust. History is too important to be politicised.’

Several other compelling reasons should be considered:

The widespread ignorance prevailing among young individuals necessitates the delegitimisation of Holocaust deniers. It is crucial to undermine their capacity to disseminate falsehoods. A 2018 CNN poll showed that in Europe, one in 20 Europeans surveyed had never heard of the Holocaust. More than a quarter of Europeans in the poll believed Jews had too much influence in business and finance. Nearly one in four said Jews had too much influence in conflict and wars across the world (Green 2018). In 2019, the Guardian published a public poll that showed one in 20 British adults did not believe the Holocaust happened, and 8 per cent said that the scale of the genocide had been exaggerated. Almost half of those questioned said they did not know how many Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and one in five grossly underestimated the number, saying that fewer than two million were killed (Sherwood 2019). A 2020 survey, conducted in the United States, showed that almost two-thirds of young American adults did not know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and more than one in 10 believed Jews caused the Holocaust (Sherwood 2020). A 2023 poll shows that a fifth of Americans aged 18-29 believe the Holocaust was a myth (Robertson 2023).

A UNESCO (2022b) publication shows that Holocaust denial and distortion is present on all online platforms. Some 19 per cent of all Holocaust-related public Twitter content either denied or distorted the history. 17 per cent of public TikTok content that related to the Holocaust either denied or distorted the Holocaust. Eight per cent of public Holocaust-related content on Facebook was either Holocaust denial or distortion and 3 per cent of material posted publicly on Instagram discussing the Holocaust either denied or distorted the history. Nearly half of Holocaust-related public content on Telegram denies or distorts the facts (University of Oxford 2022).

Furthermore, the contemporary consumption of news greatly enables the promotion of conspiracy theories, including Holocaust denial. Many individuals, especially the youth, no longer engage with traditional news outlets such as newspapers or major television networks like the BBC (Twenge, Martin and Spitzberg 2018; Eddy 2022a; Eddy 2022b). Instead, they rely on social media platforms that tailor their news feed to cater to their preferences and interests. Consequently, their worldview becomes confined and susceptible to the proliferation of falsehoods. Presently, disseminating lies to an interested or receptive audience on a large scale has become remarkably effortless. Racist individuals exploit social media to propagate repeatedly the fallacious narrative that the Holocaust never occurred, following the principle formulated by Goebbels that if a lie is told repeatedly and convincingly enough, it will eventually be accepted as truth. This phenomenon is known as the illusory truth effect (van der Linden 2023: 21).

There are several additional factors contributing to the need to reevaluate our perspective. Many educational institutions worldwide neglect to teach the Holocaust, exacerbating the issue. Additionally, non-Jewish individuals tend to display less interest in this subject, perceiving it as exclusively pertaining to the Jewish community. Moreover, the number of Holocaust survivors is rapidly dwindling, resulting in a significant loss of firsthand accounts. Dr Joe Mulhall, senior researcher at the anti-racism organisation Hope Not Hate and Trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, says: “As time passes we have fewer and fewer people who witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust first-hand. That’s why it’s vital we keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, especially among younger generations. The best way to fight back against Holocaust denial wherever it rears its head is awareness and education, and Holocaust Memorial Day is an important part of that, especially as we approach the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz- Birkenau next year” (Holocaust Memorial Day Trust 2019).

The advancement of technology has also provided enhanced capabilities to manipulate documents and images, thus facilitating the creation of alternative and distorted historical narratives. With time, the denial narrative might be greater in volume than the historical evidence as the tools for reconstructing and fabricating history advance.

On a broader scale, online hate targeting minority groups is on the rise, including a particularly concerning increase in anti-Semitism (United Nations Human Rights 2021; ADL 2023). Detractors draw unwarranted connections between Israeli policies in the Palestinian Occupied Territories and the Holocaust, thereby depicting Israelis as Nazis and falsely holding the Jewish community responsible for various global atrocities. Lastly, hate speech is intrinsically linked to hate crimes, as individuals driven by animosity may resort to violence. Holocaust denial is fuelling extremists to take up arms and commit acts of murder against Jewish individuals (Cohen-Almagor 2018).

While education undoubtedly plays a pivotal role in combating ignorance, it may not be sufficient in eradicating the denial and distortion of historical events aimed at promoting hatred and violence against targeted minorities, as suggested by the previously mentioned surveys. Therefore, implementing legislation to prohibit Holocaust denial is imperative. It is crucial to recognise that hate speech laws do not infringe upon freedom of expression; rather, they delineate its boundaries and parameters. Absolute freedom of expression does not exist, not even in the United States, and certain limitations must be imposed to ensure the proper functioning of a thriving society. Drawing lessons from history, it is our moral duty to oppose hatred. Failure to do so would ultimately contribute to our own downfall.


Holocaust denial is much more than a distasteful phenomenon. It makes the victims perpetrators. It absolves Nazi Germany of its crimes and blames all Jews for their ‘crimes’. It dismisses historical fact as a lie and makes blatant lies part of history. Holocaust denial invents a new reality. It rewrites a new version of history to replace real history. In the deniers’ version of history, ‘the Jews’ control the world. They are incredibly powerful conspirators. They write the present and they write the past. They are, in their Satanic incarnation, ‘everywhere’ (Harwood 1974; Faurisson 1998). They are united in a demonic zeal to corrupt humanity. Whatever deniers do to convince others that their racism is justified, they blame it on the powerful Jews.

Holocaust denial represents a disturbing and harmful phenomenon that goes beyond mere distaste. It not only shifts blame on to the victims but also exonerates Nazi Germany of its atrocities and assigns collective guilt to all Jews. This denial replaces historical evidence with falsehoods, creating an alternate reality and rewriting history. According to various surveys and polls, a significant number of people in Europe and the United States remain uninformed or hold anti-Semitic beliefs related to the Holocaust. This highlights the persistent spread of Holocaust denial and distortion, particularly on online platforms such as X (formerly Twitter), TikTok, Telegram, Facebook and Instagram. While I previously believed that banning Holocaust denial was unnecessary in certain countries, recent developments have made it clear that combating Holocaust denial is necessary worldwide to protect the integrity of historical truth and prevent the harmful perpetuation of anti-Semitic ideologies.

Holocaust denial serves as a deliberate catalyst for fostering hostility towards a specific group based on their ethnic and religious identity. Its purpose is to downplay and rationalise heinous acts such as murder, genocide, xenophobia and overall malevolence. By disguising itself as a quest for ‘truth’, Holocaust denial manipulates the concept of racial supremacy to grant itself a sense of legitimacy. While proponents of Holocaust denial argue for their right to free speech and the pursuit of truth, I argue that hate speech does not deserve protection. Holocaust denial falls squarely within the realm of hate speech, as its intentions are to inflict harm, strip individuals of their humanity, subject them to harassment, degradation and victimisation, while simultaneously fostering desensitisation and brutality towards these targeted groups. It is entirely justifiable for marginalised communities to seek safeguarding against provocative speech that has the potential to incite violent actions. Additionally, it is absolutely crucial to acknowledge the unquestionable links that exist between hate speech, hate crimes and acts of terrorism. In this context, it becomes the responsibility of the liberal state to fulfil its duty in safeguarding these vulnerable minorities. The duty of the state is to protect and uplift marginalised communities, especially in the face of hatred and discrimination. By prohibiting hate speech, we strive to build a decent society that upholds democratic values and promotes inclusivity and respect for all individuals and communities.


1 The First Amendment to the Constitution. Available online at http://caselaw.lp.findlaw. com/data/constitution/amendment01/

2 For further discussion, see Anderson and Barnes (2022)

3 See also Wistrich (2012)

4 For further discussion, see Newman (2010); Cohen-Almagor (2010)

5 For critique of free speech absolutism, see Cohen-Almagor (2021). For critique of the marketplace of ideas concept, see Pole (1994)

6 See also Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire 315 U.S. 568 (1942); State of Nebraska v. Broadstone, 233 Neb. 595, 447 N.W.2d 30 (20 October 1989); State of Nebraska v. Groves, 219 Neb. 382, 363 N.W.2d 507 (1 March 1985); Jordan v. Burgoyne (1963) 2 QB 744 (DC)

7 United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968)


ADL (2023) Antisemitic attitudes in America: Topline findings, 12 January

Against Holocaust Distortion (2021) Available online at https://www.

Anderson L. and Barnes, M. (2022) Hate speech, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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Note on the contributor

Raphael Cohen-Almagor received his doctorate from the University of Oxford. He is Professor of Politics, Founding Director of the Middle East Study Centre, University of Hull in the UK; The 2023 Olof Palme Visiting Professor, Lund University, Sweden; Global Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington DC, and President of the Association for Israel Studies (AIS). Raphael was a co-founder of Israel’s Second Generation to the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Organisation, the founder of the University of Haifa Center for Democratic Studies and the founder of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute Medical Ethics Think-tank. X:

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