A Discussion to Limit Holocaust ‘Denial’

Steve Paulsson writes (H-ANTISEMITISM Digest — 28 Jul 1998 to 29 Jul 1998)

[[ I don’t believe in the suppression of any form of speech, true or false, as long as it is within the law of libel etc. ]]

Jonathan E. Schiff (in the same issue) and Steven Paulson make good arguments why we should not enact a law against “Holocaust denial.” There is a fear that any curtailment of free speech could lead to the end of intellectual development, which is the hallmark of totalitarianism. Indeed, some of the lies about the Holocaust did force us to do better research and documentation for posterity. But the subject is far from being cut and dried, and I am far from being convinced as to which of the two evils is worse.

Making an effort to prevent publication of “Holocaust denial” is a better idea, so respectable magazines, newspapers etc. will not take this trash. Therefore, anti-Semites will have to spent their own resources, which will inevitably curtail the amount of it. What worries me is the case of crying “fire” is a crowded theater when there is no fire. All legal scholars agree that although free speech does allow it, it is illegal nonetheless since the trampling of people in the stampede on the way out overtakes the right of the free speech.

Put it another way. If a lie is repeated enough times it takes on a life of its own, and that has to be prevented. The blood libel in the middle ages is a good example. Telling this lie so many times over the years, that Jews sacrifice a Christian child before Pesakh in order to use his blood for some rituals is a complete fabrication. Free speech doctrine says we must allow these people to tell this lie; but the consequences of telling the lies is that people die as a result of it. Do the innocent people who die as a result of this repeated lie have rights too? The question is then: when do we reach the point that we can legitimately stop “Holocaust denial” or similar antisemitic fabrication in order to protect the Jews from the next progrom?

I think, therefore, that some limit on free speech is a legitimate policy. How to articulate that balance is for others to fathom. Steve Paulsson already pointed out that libelous acts can be persecuted today. He in fact says that a direct damage caused by lies has a legal remedy today. The issue raised here is how do you deal with the indirect damage? It seems to me that a complete free speech doctrine without some balance of protection for the people who are indirectly damaged by it is not a good policy.

Gilad J. Gevaryahu