Holocaust hate speech is a multi-lingual worldwide phenomenon that is growing–combining different conspiracy theories for spreading hateful content against Jews and Israel. It is vital that the roll-out for flagging content that denies or distorts the Holocaust across digital platforms, is as multi-faceted as the various conspiracy theories and rich taxonomy used to promote this form of Jew-hatred.
Holocaust abuse acquires various faces: from denial to distortion, from trivialization to inversion. Jewish groups, countries, and international organizations have engaged over two decades in canonizing the memory of the Holocaust. Just recently, in January 2022, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning Holocaust denial.
While the invaluable witnesses of the events that took place during that time, Holocaust survivors, are slowly disappearing, the initiatives for memorializing the Holocaust are increasing. However, new narratives, conspiracies and hateful expressions online alert to the fact that there is a new core issue which goes beyond the challenge of memorializing the Holocaust. Antisemitic content online points to a new form of hate speech: Holocaust hate speech. Holocaust hate speech catalyzes denial, trivialization, and other forms of abuse of the Holocaust from various ideological camps, inciting vitriol against Jews and Israel as the only Jewish state.
Holocaust denial has always existed, although in its earliest days, much like antisemitism, was prominent in specific intellectual and academic circles. In the aftermath of World War II, denial was a way of perpetuating Nazi ideology and avoiding responsibility for war crimes and genocide by European countries and leaders during that era. In the 1980s and 1990s, Holocaust denial was promoted by far-right intellectuals.
However, since the late 1990s, Holocaust-denial has been championed by uniquely anti-Western stakeholders on the world stage. For example, Iran has actively promoted Holocaust denial and distortion. In some cases, Iran has also pursued connections with Europe’s far-right networks to continue to perpetuate Holocaust denial, like in France. Islamist views add to Holocaust abuse, ranging from justifying the genocide of the Jewish people because of what are considered to be Jews’ wrongdoings against divine doctrine (religious Holocaust justification) to Holocaust denial, alleging that the Holocaust was part of an elaborate Jewish-plot to create the State of Israel.
Online, these conspiracy theories about the cabal behind the Holocaust are often summed up by using the term or hashtag “Holohoax,” which serves to deny the Holocaust through anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. Through the use of this terminology, the Holocaust is portrayed as an invention or an exaggeration claimed to secure domination on states and media, pursue economic gains, and guarantee Israel’s existence.
Holocaust hate speech has been utilized to promote socio-political criticisms. The most recent form of Holocaust hate speech for political purposes was evident during the protests against masking and policies in the wake of the outbreak of COVID-19. With the emergence of Israel-based antisemitism, Holocaust history and imagery has also been abused for attacking Israel in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While using controversial language and imagery to draw attention to an issue or criticize certain policies is a common and often acceptable way of expressing political criticism, there are unique implications to abusing the memory of the Holocaust that perpetuate and promote flat-out Jew-hatred.
The delegitimization movement against Israel regularly falsely portrays the Jewish state as a Nazi regime and the Gaza strip as the Auschwitz death camp. This portrayal is also known as Holocaust inversion, whereby allegedy Jews have become the Nazi-like torturers and Palestinians have become the victims. The inherent antisemitism of these claims lies in the premise of the Holocaust as bearing a cardinal moral message that Israelis are accused of rejecting, making them and any of those who identify as Zionists or supporters of Israel, morally repugnant.
Beyond demonization, this inaccurate parallelism also leads to disinformation, misinformation and manipulation of historical fact. For example, intellectually dishonest criticism of the early Zionist movement and Jewish leadership during WWII-era Europe that tried to save Jews from Nazi Germany by offering Jewish settlement in the British-mandate of Palestine as an alternative to mass-execution to certain military leaders Third Reich. A commonly held belief in far-left circles purports an alleged cooperation between Zionists and Nazis for motivating European Jews to settle in pre-State Israel. Thus, painting an image of a sinister Zionist plot to create a Jewish state by negotiating with Nazi Germany and furthermore, some fictious similarlity rooted in guilt-by-association between the Jewish political liberation movement and Nazism. This conclusion is not too dissimilar to the Islamist view that the Holocaust was a Jewish hoax to establish a Jewish state in the British-mandate of Palestine. Today, in Europe, some far-left groups have extrapolated this a-historical version of events to oppose European observance of Holocaust remembrance. For example, there are certain groups fight against the observance of Holocaust Memorial Day, seeking to reappropriate the day for calling attention the Palestinian cause. Therefore the politicization of Holocaust memory, whereby people refuse to participate in activities aimed at generating empathy and recognition of a specific tragedy when it it is at odds with its ideological stances against Israel or Zionism, contributes to Holocaust distortion and denial.
It is important to note that Holocaust denial or distortion today is not limited to an intellectual exercise motivated by defending or promoting a specific ideology, but a means for expressing anti-Jewish hatred. The aforementioned narratives intertwine in online hate speech, which use forms of Holocaust abuse for furthering antisemitic tropes. Across digital platforms, Holocaust hate speech is promoted by groups of various ideological extrapolation that advance similar antisemitic tropes. These includes: conspiracy theories whereby Jews invented the Holocaust for pursuing sinister goals; conspiracy theories whereby Zionists invented or inflated the Holocaust for legitimizing the establishment of the State of Israel; and hateful language and imagery demonizing Israelis as Nazis. Holocaust hate speech also unfolds in the consideration of Holocaust denial as a form of liberation, whereby Holocaust abusers become heroes who oppose Jews, portrayed as wicked schemers domineering the world’s fate.
Broadly, Holocaust hate speech is a mult-lingual worldwide phenomenon that is growing–combining different conspiracy theories for spreading hateful content against Jews and Israel. Holocaust hate speech is no more identifiable with one ideological camp or another and encompasses diverse extremist doctrines and beliefs. In October 2020, Meta, then still known as Facebook, announced an explicit no-tolerance policy on Holocaust denial, while other social media community standards specifically ban content that deny the Holocaust ever happened, as it is a historic atrocity that targeted members of a protected characteristic group. It is vital that the tech-based roll-out for flagging and removing content that denies or distorts the Holocaust, is as multi-faceted and multi-lingual as the various conspiracy theories and rich taxonomy used to promote this form of Jew-hatred.
For clear examples of the way that Holocaust denial and distortion plays out in digital spaces, visit our reporting platform and filter for the fourth and fifth types of anitsemitism according to the International Holocaust Rememberance Alliance (IHRA) working definition.
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