Alarmed by a recent tide of Holocaust denial ads in university newspapers around the United States, Jewish and Catholic organizations have jointly condemned attempts to distort or deny the Holocaust, calling on editors not to publish revisionist claims.
The Synagogue council of American along with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement calling efforts to pressure universities to publish revisionist material a “perversion of the First Amendment” intended to incite racial hatred and promote the deniers’ own fascist ideology.
“They have a legal right to lie,” said Eugene Fisher, director of Catholic- Jewish relations for the bishops’ conference, “but we can say they’re lying.”
Fisher said this current tactic is part of second phase of Holocaust denial, whereby revisionists who had been denied access to legitimate academic channels are exploiting a climate of hypertolerance on university campuses as well as misguided notions of freedom of speech.
Masked as legitimate scholarship, the aim of most Holocaust deniers is to “rehabilitate the tattered image of National Socialism (Nazism),” the joint statement said.
The Catholic and Jewish groups are sending letters to representatives of their respective faiths on campuses across the United States, providing information on the deniers’ real agenda and urging them to speak out against further publication of revisionist claims.
What is at stake in the debate, according of Fisher, is nothing less than a battle for historical memory, the outcome of which could have a far-reaching impact on future events.
“If we deny that massive a crime against humanity,” Fisher asked, “what else can people get away with?”
More than a dozen university newspapers have published the advertisements, some on the grounds that even Holocaust deniers have a right to express their ideas in a public forum.
Others published the text of the ads along with an editorial refutation, citing the need to publicly repudiate denial claims.
Rabbi Shel Schiffman, executive vice president of the Synagogue council, said the deniers may have targeted college campuses because of the perception that students in particular are inclined to support what they perceive to be anti- establishment ideas.
But Dave Konig, executive editor of The Quad, the Queens College newspaper that ran the advertisement as an “editorial illustration” alongside a refutation, insists that the best tactic against revisionists is to confront them head-on.
“On a university campus, the whole goal is education, and you cannot educate through ignorance,” Konig said.
However, Schiffman and others who have spoken out strongly against such tactics insist that editors should just say no.
“If someone has stated that the world is flat, we don’t have to give it publicity as an alternative view,” Schiffman said.
Schiffman added that, ironically, Jewish editors may be more likely than their non-Jewish counterparts to publish Holocaust denial clams because of pressure to appear impartial.
This is third joint statement issued by the Synagogue Council and the Bishops Conference since the two groups began holding biannual meetings in 1987.
Previous statements dealt with moral education in public schools and efforts to help stem what they called the proliferation of pornography.
Schiffman said the statement reflects a deep concern for holocaust-related issues among many in the Catholic leadership, as well as warming of relations between Catholics and Jews since Vatican Council II met in the 1960s.