Why Mark Zuckerberg is wrong about the Holocaust

The Facebook co-founder's refusal to kick Holocaust deniers off his platform masks a larger, ugly trend in American society.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gives the keynote address at F8, Facebook's developer conference in San Jose, Calif., on May 1, 2018. Remarks from Zuckerberg have sparked criticism from groups such as the Anti-Defamation League. Zuckerberg, who is Jewish, told Recode's Kara Swisher in an interview that although he finds Holocaust denial

(RNS) — There is a line in the song “If I Were a Rich Man” from “Fiddler On the Roof”: “When you’re rich they think you really know.”

I don’t care how rich Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is. I don’t care how successful Facebook is, to the extent that imagining the world without Facebook is like imagining it without oxygen.

Zuckerberg’s recent comment in an interview with the website Recode about Holocaust deniers on Facebook shows that he just doesn’t get it.

These are his words:

I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened. I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.

“I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

Yes, Mark, they are.

People who deny the Holocaust are anti-Semites, plain and simple. If you don’t believe me, do yourself a favor and watch “Denial,” the movie based on the life experiences of the indefatigable Jewish heroine of our time, Deborah Lipstadt, a historian who has been waging a war against hatred disguised as academic freedom.

Or, let me put it this way.

Imagine someone saying on Facebook that black slavery of the 18th and 19th centuries was a fiction. After all, it happened more than 150 years ago. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” could have been based on fantasy. Black people could have invented the whole slavery narrative as a way of claiming victimhood.

Would Zuckerberg sit idly by and let people say that on his platform?

Or imagine that some Facebook users want to say that homosexuality is a mental illness and tout various “cures” for LGBT behavior. Would he let that happen?

When it comes to denying the Holocaust, the issue is not freedom of speech or academic freedom or freedom of advertising. In this case, the First Amendment is a smokescreen — and the smoke is the smoke of Birkenau.

The issue is whether or not Mark Zuckerberg believes that Facebook has an obligation to give a platform to those who hate and who would destroy Jews.

The even deeper issue is the pervasive intellectual flabbiness of American culture. It is the enthronement of intellectual relativism.

Intellectual relativism says that all ideas count and are equally valid and that whatever truth may be out there, no one can really claim to have it. Everything is simply your narrative or my narrative — and all narratives are created equal.

We rightly decry this intellectual relativism when it comes from the political and cultural right. There, we see people bending and obliterating truth for political purposes. But, the political and cultural left exhibits intellectual relativism as well.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with a group of young Jews.

“Rabbi, it’s only your opinion that there is a God.” “Rabbi, it’s only your opinion that people are made in God’s image.” “It’s only your opinion that we have higher moral responsibilities to people than to animals.”

Finally, one girl said, “You can’t even say that my pants are black, because in France they would be noir.”

When I suggested that she was mistaking the word for the concept, she could not hear it. There is no common agreement on God, ethics, colors or anything. There is no truth, only opinion.

The issue is not only Holocaust denial. That belongs, we understand, to Jew-haters. There are also acts of “soft” denial, minimization and relativism, which are more often the tools of the political and intellectual left than of the right.

“Yes, the Shoah happened, but … ”

  • “Yes, it happened, but it wasn’t 6 million.”
  • “Yes, it happened, but other people were also killed in the camps: Polish people, labor leaders, gypsies, gays and Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
  • “Yes, it happened, but it was no different from other genocides and ethnic cleanings, like slavery or the Armenian genocide or what happened in Cambodia or Rwanda.”
  • “Yes, it happened, but what the Nazis did to the Jews is what the Jews are doing to others (e.g., the Palestinians).”
  • “Yes, it happened, but the Palestinians are the secondary victims of the Holocaust. The Shoah was a ‘European on European’ crime; why should the contours of the Middle East be changed because of it?” (This argument, of course, ignores the destruction of Arab Jewish communities, and the fact that Nazi propaganda had a willing audience in Arab countries.)

There are many things about the Holocaust that historians, sociologists, psychologists and theologians openly and legitimately debate:

  • the role of Jewish leadership in the ghettos.
  • the general silence of American Jewry.
  • what made a righteous Gentile do what he or she did.
  • what the Holocaust reveals about civilization and culture.
  • what the ethical implications are of the “scientific data” from medical experiments in the camps.
  • what the Shoah’s role should be in American Jewish life.
  • where God was.

Those are good, valid and thoughtful points of debate. But one truth must be beyond debate: The Holocaust happened.

And those who say it did not should have no home on Facebook.

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics. 

(The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

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