Discredited or driven underground, Holocaust denial has reemerged in a new form, said Mark Weitzman, director of government affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Instead of claiming the Shoa never happened, revisionists are now equating Zionism with Nazism, or accusing Jews of manipulating the Holocaust for political or conspiratorial purposes.
“Holocaust denial was a failure in which they were laughed at or discredited,” said Weitzman, speaking April 19 at Temple B’nai Shalom in East Brunswick. “It is not outright Holocaust denial that’s a danger, but rather manipulation of the Shoa.”
Weitzman spoke at the annual community Holocaust remembrance program of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ.
He described the waning influence of deniers like the California-based Institute for Historical Review. Once a leading voice among deniers, the IHR was so beset by legal issues and loss of credibility that it is no longer able to publish its journal or hold once well-attended conferences.
Instead, in the last several years, its executive director, Mark Weber, has resorted to Zionist conspiracy theories that Jews control all aspects of American life.
“He doesn’t even talk about Holocaust denial anymore, because in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere, Holocaust denial is on the outs — except in Iran,” said Weitzman.
Others have used the Holocaust in attacks on Israel, which are increasingly indistinguishable from attacks on Jews.
In France, for example, allegations of a “double standard” have been made against the government, alleging that “when the Jews complained [about Holocaust denial] they banned it,” said Weitzman. “When Muslims complained about the desecration of [prophet] Mohammed they were denied.”
Weitzman said the quenelle — an inverted Nazi salute in which the arm points down as a protest against government authority, popularized by French comedian Dieudonne — has become popular in clubs throughout Europe. Anti-Semites have been photographed making the gesture in front of Holocaust memorials and Auschwitz.
“The equation that Jews equal Nazis has become popular all over the place,” said Weitzman.
Earlier this year, Brazilian eighth-graders were asked to contrast the actions of Nazis toward Jews with those of Israelis toward Palestinians, posing the question, “Who is worse, Jews or Nazis?” The exam question brought a firestorm of criticism and the Rio de Janeiro school district apologized.
In Turkey, where anti-Semitism has risen sharply, President Tayyip Erdogan has accused Israel of racial cleansing and of a “barbarism” worse than Hitler’s, said Weitzman. Turkish pop singer Yildiz Tilbe made a series of anti-Semitic tweets during last summer’s Gaza war, including one that stated, “May God bless Hitler,” which was retweeted by the mayor of Ankara.
President Barack Obama, while at a NATO summit in Wales in September 2014, specifically met with Erdogan to ask him to tone down the rhetoric.
Throughout the Baltic and Eastern European countries, governments have been downplaying their own roles in the extermination of Jews, said Weitzman, choosing instead to portray themselves as occupied victims during World War II.
In Hungary, authorities are claiming the country’s officials played a negligible role in the deportation of 440,000 Jews within a two-month period in 1944. It was German Chancellor Angela Merkel who called out Hungarian authorities, said Weitzman.
The Yom Hashoa commemoration also featured a candle-lighting procession by survivors and relatives of those who perished in the Holocaust. B’nai Shalom Cantor Andrew Edison chanted “El Maleh Rachamim.” Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer recited Kaddish and reminded the crowd that “70 years after the Holocaust we must surely remember and never forget those lost.”
Also performing was the Anshe Segulah Men’s Chorus led by Cantor Anna West Ott of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick.