Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Why Mark Zuckerberg is wrong about the Holocaust

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 "deeply offensive," such content should not be banned from Facebook. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(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.)

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

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, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

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  • Right…………………..censorship isn’t enough. Jail the deniers!!!
    The Truth does not fear Investigation.

  • Jail the deniers??? You’re being paroled from Facebook. Now ain’t self esteem a bitch.

  • Sorry, I’m with Zuckerberg on this one. I find the notion of denying the Holocaust repugnant and potentially dangerous, but I find censorship more so. Once we start going down that road, who decides what passes muster and what doesn’t? How do you keep these decisions from becoming subjective and, ultimately, oppressive?

    The free exchange of ideas — even stupid and offensive ones — is our best defense against tyranny. The founders of this country understood that and so should we.

  • Let the Holocaust deniers remain on Facebook if we must, just don’t tell me it’s because they’re “not getting it wrong intentionally.”

  • Yea! Germany knows how to do it — jail old ladies! Ursula Haverbeck should be denied water in jail.
    Britain is now getting in on it and jailing singers — Allison Chabloz. Allison should have her tongue removed. Jail is too easy.
    The Truth needs no laws to protect it.

  • Let’s see now. Shortly before the 4th of July, a small newspaper, the Liberty (Texas) Vindicator, posted the 10th snippet in a 12-snippet quotation of the Declaration of Independence. They wanted readers to read and think about it.

    But the Declaration, written back in 1776, contains the phrase, “merciless Indian savages.” So what did the Facebook Fascists do on the 10th snip? Censor out the Declaration of Independence, of course. “Hate Speech”, Zuckerberg’s zombies piously pontificated.

    Meanwhile, every Holocaust Denier in town gets a free pass from Facebook. Go figure.

  • As Senator Moynihan put it, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Holocaust deniers are not expressing an opinion. They are denying a fact.

  • Facebook should be sued out of existence for allowing its users to mislead the public on these kinds of issues. There is no one on earth who is not
    “intentionally getting it wrong” with Holocaust denial. Facebook should not have to take anything down. It should face severe liability for leaving falsehood up. Citizens will figure this out after their rights to know truth are gone because they were so concerned about protecting Mark.

  • Thank you so much for this article. You articulated this so well – I had been struggling with how to respond to what Zuckerberg said – it was so absurd. One point I will make is that Facebook/Zuckerberg would allow the anti-LGBT messaging you bring up. In fact there are many sites on facebook against gays, specifically ones that tout a cure for the mental illness of homosexuality.

  • Salkin is wrong and Zuckerberg is right, if not for the reason Zuckerberg gave. Zuckerberg’s problem is that he’s a victim of his own success. If we were talking about a local, or perhaps even regional, social media board it would be different. If we were talking about even a national newspaper it would perhaps be different.

    The general rule is that the 1st Amendment doesn’t apply to private organizations, they are allowed to advance and express their own views, and not allow others to use their resources to advance opposing views. But Facebook has been successful enough that it has a practical monopoly in its niche AND it has put itself forward as a site where all people are welcome. Yes, it takes down what it considers hate speech, deliberately offiensive assaults, etc., but is running up against the problem of what to do when what’s offensive is the viewpoint itself regardless of how it is expressed.

    In the case of Holocaust deniers, he could easily make a case for taking them down, because as others have pointed out there’s a difference between opinions and facts. You could do the same thing with flat-earthers, on the same argument, if anyone cared. But where do you draw the line? There is nowhere to draw that line that won’t make SOMEONE unhappy, whether because it’s too permissive or too stringent, and there are already polititicans that want to draw that line for him. So he’s trying to avoid drawing that line at all, at least publicly. He’s already in hot water thanks to the results of adopting the Left’s definition of hate speech.

  • The problem with Facebook is that if a billion people see an absolute lie there are some who will believe it. If someone wants to believe that the earth is flat I don’t care — they’re not hurting anyone. If someone denies the Holocaust they are setting the stage for future hatred and death just as surely as European anti-Semitism eased the way forward for the Nazis.

  • Its telling that the nations on the receiving end of Nazi terror have a dim view of those who intentionally lie about history for the purposes of maligning others. Maybe they shouldn’t be such hateful liars.

    Free speech laws don’t protect defamation or fraud.

  • I admit I’m torn on this one, but I don’t think banning Holocaust denial from the internet rises to the level of censorship. At least, it isn’t any more censorship than what Facebook currently does. Facebook already polices its posts and removes anything it considers abusive or hate speech. Adding “Holocaust denial” to the list of things it considers hate speech isn’t moving the needle that much.

  • Holocaust denial isn’t a product of ignorance. It is an intentional defamatory form of speech. It has no free speech protections. Plus as a private entity, the site can be entirely arbitrary about what it bans and what it keeps.

  • Facebook was not created for the free exchange of ideas. It was designed to get eyeballs on screens and drive up advertising revenues. So it can use whatever arbitrary criteria it wants for content allowed.

    Holocaust denial is an intentional form of dishonesty and has no more free speech protection as libel or fraud. We already know from its own proponents that it is not a mistake of fact, but a campaign of misrepresentation. There is no need to take it as a serious form of discussion because its own proponents don’t.

  • People lie in public forums. It happens all the time and with greater frequency every day. I abhor it and I recognize it as dangerous, but I also understand that it’s part of the price we pay for free speech. Nonetheless, your point about the purpose of Facebook is a fair one. I just get concerned about the potential abuses of censorship.

  • there’s a difference between opinions and facts
    Exactly! Like how “soap made out of jew fat” has now been declared an elaboration.
    “Lampshades made out of jew skin” has also been determined an elaboration.
    “Shrunken jew heads” has also now been declared an elaboration.
    But at one time, these were FACTS. Now OPINIONS

  • Sorry Roy, but the entire corpus of Holocaust denial claims has been demonstrated to be intentional and deliberate lying for the purposes of furthering neo-nazi anti-Semitic attacks.

    There is not a single Holocaust denier who has not referenced David Irving’s work or been referenced by him. The world got to see his lies exposed to the public.
    http://www.hdot.org

    They even made a nice dramatization of it with the lovely and talented Rachel Weisz.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denial_(2016_film)

    Your denial of such developments is irony incarnate.

  • While there are no actual examples of shrunken heads of Jews or soap made out of human fat, there are at least three cases of tattoos skinned from Buchenwald victims; from corner holes, they may have been kept in a scrap book. There is also a lampshade made from human flesh that someone bought at a garage sale six months after Hurricane Katrina that the seller claimed was made from the skin of Jews, but no one has been able to tie it to the Nazis.

  • Senator Moynihan said “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”, yet here you are.

  • There is no evidence for a planned extermination of the jews. Hitler worked with jewish groups to get jews out of Germany & to Palestine before the war started. When the war started he put jews in internment camps as “foreign subversives,” just as we did with the Japanese. The allies bombed the transportation infrastructure, keeping food from being delivered to the camps. Starvation lead to mass deaths, often from typhus. Even after the allies liberated camps, 100s of inmates continued to die every day for weeks from such diseases. Anne Frank’s father was treated multiple times for typhus, and was in the infirmary being treated when his camp was captured by the allies.

    The so-called “gas chambers” often had wooden doors, which would absorb poison and infect any who touched it. It takes many hours to fully burn a human body. (6 million) X (# of hours to burn a body) / (# of ovens) = they would have still been burning the bodies into the ’90s.

    Zyklon B was to kill the lice that spread typhus, it does not kill people.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=4iI0qAIaJDM

    The most damning evidence against the holocaust is the fact that if it was real, there would be no need to make it illegal to question it.

  • “People who deny the Holocaust are anti-Semites, plain and simple. ”

    Do you know everyone who does not believe in the holocaust? No! So how can you know what every single one believes? You can’t!

    This is like saying: People who believe in the existence Yahweh are racists, plain and simple.

    That’s foolish and wrong.

    “Imagine someone saying on Facebook that black slavery of the 18th and 19th centuries was a fiction.” He will be refuted in not time with solid evidence. Thus, we have nothing to fear.

    “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?” People would dispute this thesis and present evidence disproving it. This discussion has been going on for decade without any dire consequences. Thus, we have nothing to fear.

    “But one truth must be beyond debate: The Holocaust happened.” Nothing is beyond peaceful debate. We shall debate whether the earth is round, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, 9-11 was an inside job, Yahweh exists, and whether the holocaust happened. That’s freedom of speech.

    The truth cannot be refuted. Thus, the truth will prevail in an open debate. The truth shall set you free.

  • FaceBook shouldn’t censor anyone. What rabbi says is true about Zuckerberg not allowing slavery deniers or people who claim to have a cure for homosexuality, but if free speech is to mean anything, those people should be able to say whatever they want to all two of their followers. Censorship is far more dangerous than anything that anyone can say, and the proof is that free speech is the first thing to fall in totalitarian regimes.

  • And too many Jews hate Arabs. If you dish out racist stupidity (i.e., referring to the bombing of Gaza as “mowing the lawn”), you have to be prepared to take it.

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