Tuesday, February 21, 2006


The Thought Police Live (in Austria)

This morning I was bowled over by a New York Post article about notorious Holocaust denier David Irving, who was arrested by the Austrian government yesterday and sentenced to three years in jail for violating a law there that prohibits the denial of the Nazi genocide.

Most immediately, I was amazed to learn that there was such a law in existence. We like to joke about the thought police here in the States, but here we have a real life case of someone getting imprisoned for their ideas. It sounded as absurd as Irving's lunatic ravings themselves.

But as I thought about it more, I was surprised by how viscerally appalled I was by this well-intentioned act of Orwellian justice, and how little emotional conflict I felt about it as a free-thinking, free-speechifing Jew. I was expecting pangs of ambivalence, but what I got was moral clarity.

I'll be curious to hear the reactions of other Members of the Tribe to Irving's imprisonment. But without hearing the counter arguments, this strikes me as even more open-and-shut ethical call than the Nazis marching in Skokie -- and which demands at least an equal level of condemnation from the defenders of civil liberties and independent thought.

In the Skokie case, there was a fundamental principle at stake, but the practical consequence was relatively minimal -- the ability of the Nazis to shout in the street. Nevertheless, free speech advocates went to the legal mattresses on behalf of a group they despised, and rightly so, because of the damaging precedent that would be set.

In Irving's case, we are no longer talking about some theoretical slipppery slope, but physically robbing someone of their liberty purely for thinking odious ideas and making odious statements. That is a far more frightening and dangerous prospect to me than anything Irving has ever thought or said, despicable as his Nazi apologias are.

The most just and effective way to punish Irving's pernicious speech is to put him in an intellectual torture chamber and beat him mercilessly with the facts. Indeed, instead of fearing his lies and making him a martyr to the anti-Semitic conspiracy loonies, the world community and the Jewish community in particular should use him
to expose the disgusting fraud that deniers are peddling and make real the unfathomable horrors that the Nazis perpetrated on millions of innocent people.

That's ultimately how a free people defang and defeat Irving's brand of evil -- and at the same time teach generations to come who will never be personally touched by the Holocaust what it really means to say never again. Not by acting like a morally bankrupt Soviet state that is afraid of its critics and seeks to silence them, but by doing what democracies do best -- liberating the truth.


I was curious what some of the prominent Jewish groups were saying in reaction to the Irving case. Below are statements from ADL and AJC. As you will see, not exactly profiles in courage.

ADL Reacts to the Sentencing of Holocaust Denier David Irving

New York, NY, February 20, 2006 … While acknowledging that America's constitutional system bars prosecution for hate speech, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) expressed understanding for the Austrian court decision to sentence Holocaust denier David Irving to a three-year prison term.

"Considering Austria's history during the Nazi period, the existence of laws against expressing Holocaust denial is understandable," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor. "Irving is a key figure in efforts to legitimize Holocaust denial. At a time when the President of Iran is spreading this message of hate that Irving has propagated, the Austrian court has sent an unmistakable and important message."

AJC Salutes Austrian Court Ruling against David Irving

February 21, 2006 – New York – The American Jewish Committee has applauded an Austrian court for sentencing David Irving to prison for Holocaust denial.

“At a time when Holocaust denial is increasingly in vogue as Iran ratchets up its own efforts to question the Nazi extermination of six million Jews, an Austrian court has made a great contribution in countering this hate by punishing David Irving, one of the world’s leading Holocaust deniers,” said the American Jewish Committee. Irving was sentenced to a three year term in prison for violating Austrian laws prohibiting Holocaust denial.

The Austria court’s ruling reaffirms a landmark decision by a British court in April 2000 that supported Dr. Deborah Lipstadt for calling Irving a Holocaust denier in her book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.”

Irving had attempted to sue Lipstadt for libel, but the British court concluded that he had distorted and manipulated history in order to promote his anti-Semitic, racist, and far-right politics, and that Irving is a pro-Nazi polemicist

AJC called the verdict in that case a “landmark victory for historical truth.”

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