Editorial: Facebook, Holocaust Denial and a School Principal

Oct. 15, 2020

Well, Facebook has finally done the right thing.

According to a notice published over Simchat Torah, the social media behemoth is “updating our hate speech policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.”

For an entity that prides itself on speed and freshness, this took a depressingly long time.

Jewish organizations from the Anti-Defamation League to the American Jewish Committee, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs to Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre have been imploring Facebook for years to take action against Holocaust denial and distortion. It took an immense push from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (the Claims Conference), which produced dramatic daily videos of Holocaust survivors, including from Canada, imploring Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to rid his platform of this toxic content for him to finally take action.

And for those who still believe that Holocaust deniers are simply ignorant white supremacists, consider the story of William Latson, the principal of Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, Fla.

During an email exchange in April 2018 with a parent, Latson insisted that Spanish River students could choose not to take Holocaust studies because “not everyone believed the Holocaust happened.”

He insisted that as an educator, he had to be “politically neutral.”

The parent was naturally astounded, maintaining that everyone knows the Holocaust is a historical fact. Apparently, not Latson, who responded in another email: “I can’t say that the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee.”

The drama continued for months, with Latson finally being fired for continuing to make these claims. Just last week, he was reinstated with back pay, but will no longer serve in a teaching capacity (the school board voted to reinstate Latson 4-3, with the board’s only Jewish member strongly urging against it. Another member blamed the media.)

Holocaust denial has clearly not abated. Indeed, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the world-renowned anti-hate institution, has described it quite properly as “an essential manifestation of antisemitism.”

That educated men like William Latson can take such public positions tells us that it’s not necessarily confined to the racist margins.

So there is no doubt that Facebook did the right thing. And perhaps by doing so, fewer more vulnerable minds than Latson’s will go unpolluted by hatred.

We’ll see. It’s still one thing for Facebook to enact the policy, but quite another to enforce it. If it does, Latson’s young charges will benefit, even if he doesn’t.

Survivors Seek to Shame Facebook Into Removing Holocaust Denial

Aug. 7, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

A new campaign seeks to shame Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg into pushing Holocaust deniers off his popular social media platform.

Dubbed #NoDenyingIt, (http://www.claimscon.org/nodenyingit/#clips) the drive is led by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (the or Claims Conference), the New York-based agency that pushes for compensation for survivors of the Holocaust.

The effort will see 30-second video messages from Holocaust survivors around the world posted to Facebook and other social media sites urging Zuckerberg to finally take action against Holocaust denial on the site he leads.

“This is something you’d think would be pretty straightforward,” said Conference president Gideon Taylor in a CJR interview. “We’re saying that Facebook has an obligation to history and to survivors to ensure this terrible kind of speech is not being promoted.

Gideon Taylor
Gideon Taylor

“We have Holocaust survivors every day issuing calls for Facebook to take down Holocaust denial,” he added. “We want him to sit down with Holocaust survivors and hear directly from them.”

Taylor added two factors make the campaign especially important now: The ever-decreasing number of first-hand witnesses to the Holocaust, and the steadily increasing number of voices claiming it didn’t happen.

“Facebook is a platform being given to these groups to make the voice of hate louder,” he said. “We’re asking that Facebook not let itself be used as a megaphone for that hatred.”

Survivors taking part in the campaign include famed Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld; Roman Kent, an Auschwitz survivor and head of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors; Eva Schloss, step-sister of Anne Frank; and Charlotte Knobloch, who survived Kristallnacht.

Joining them are Canadians Pinchas Gutter of Toronto and Sydney Zoltak of Montreal. Both say rising antisemitism around the world makes the effort critically important now.

“A huge amount of people now believe things that are lies,” Gutter said in an interview. “The Internet creates a platform for these lies to be spread and it has to stop.”

Gutter was seven when the Second World War started. His family was eventually confined in the infamous Warsaw Ghetto. In April 1943, during the first three weeks of the ghetto uprising, the family was discovered and deported to the Majdanek death camp.

Pichas Gutter
Pichas Gutter

On the day they arrived, Gutter’s parents and twin sister were murdered. The boy, however, was sent to a work camp. He later passed through several other concentration camps, including Buchenwald and Theresienstadt, where he was liberated by Soviet troops on May 8, 1945.

Today, he does what he can to educate people about the Shoah, and sees the #NoDenyingIt campaign as an extension of that effort.

“The only thing I can do now is educate people and the program is about educating the world,” he said. “It’s time to deal with all these lies and malignancy before they lead to killings and other terrible things.”

Zoltak is also a child survivor. His family was confined in the Siemiatyzce ghetto but escaped during its 1944 liquidation, eventually finding refuge in the barn of a family who remembered a small kindness once given them by Zoltak’s mother.

Sydney Zoltak
Sydney Zoltak

In an interview, Zoltak said he has “a special dislike for Holocaust deniers,” something he tries to ease by telling his story as often as he can.

“I don’t know what Mark Zuckerberg is thinking by allowing Holocaust denial to go on,” he said. “He says that denying the Holocaust is not hate speech, but it is.”

Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and a former Canadian representative to the Claims Conference (Farber is also publisher of the CJR), said, “the very fact that survivors have to do this in 2020 is disgusting. Deniers are using Facebook to express ideas that are unquestionably antisemitic and hateful.

“(Facebook) has to say clearly that Holocaust denial is a vile spreading of hatred against Jews and will not be tolerated.” He said the social media giant has been pushed for two years to remove such material.

In an e-mailed statement, a Facebook spokesperson said the platform will “take down any post that celebrates, defends, or attempts to justify the Holocaust. The same goes for any content that mocks Holocaust victims, accuses victims of lying about the atrocities, spews hate, or advocates for violence against Jewish people in any way.

“We know many people strongly disagree with our position – and we respect that. It’s really important for us to engage on these issues and hear from people to understand their concerns,” the statement continued. “We have a team that is dedicated to developing and reviewing our policies and we welcome collaboration with industry, experts and other groups to ensure we’re getting it right.”

A random search of Facebook, however shows such statements still make it on to the platform.

In one public group called “Did the Holocaust Really Happen?” one participant argued that claims of six million dead must be false because there simply wasn’t enough time during the Second World War to kill and cremate that many victims.

Another claims the “Holocaust myth” is nothing more than the theft of “billions of dollars from hardworking German taxpayers…to fund the brutal occupation and genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Since 1952, the Claims Conference has negotiated the payment of more than US $80 billion in indemnification to survivors. This year, the agency will distribute approximately $350 million in direct compensation to over 60,000 survivors in 83 countries and allocate approximately $610 million in grants to over 200 social service agencies worldwide to provide Holocaust survivors with home care, food and medicine.


Steve Arnold