JUSTICE - No. 68

4 No. 68 JUSTICE included, need to face up to the reality of their history, both the bad as well as the good. Indeed, my own country, the United States, took steps that made it more difficult for Jews fleeing the Holocaust to enter the country. Another example of Holocaust distortion is the use of Holocaust imagery or language for political or ideological purposes. This can trivialize and demean the Holocaust. A recent example is the yellow stars worn by anti-COVID vaccination protestors in the United States and Europe. The Nazis forced Jews to wear yellow stars of David on their clothing to easily identify, harass, and isolate Jews; force them into ghettos; round them up; deport them; and kill them. This is not comparable to the inconvenience of not being allowed to enter a restaurant because you choose not to be vaccinated. Some politicians in both the United States and in the Netherlands have compared COVID-19 restrictions to the persecutions suffered by the Jews in the Holocaust. These false comparisons distort the Holocaust’s significance as a uniquely horrific effort to systematically annihilate an entire people. They harm our democratic institutions by comparing measures taken to protect public health and save lives to measures taken by the Nazis to cold-bloodedly target and murder six million Jews, the Sinti and Roma community, the LGBTQI+ community, and others. Holocaust distortion can also involve minimizing the impact of the Holocaust or claiming that fewer people were killed than has been established by overwhelming evidence. Holocaust distortion is a form of antisemitism and it feeds more antisemitism. And of course, the Holocaust is the most horrifying example of the destruction and death to which unchecked hatred can lead. Countering Holocaust denial and distortion matters because all efforts to downplay or blur the facts of what happened and who was complicit are insults to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. It matters because it further perpetuates antisemitism. It matters because it can also fan the flames of violent extremism. One example is the gunman who killed eleven people in a synagogue in the United States in 2018. He frequented a social media platform that trafficked in Holocaust denial and other forms of antisemitism. Countering Holocaust denial and distortion matters because not doing so threatens our ability to understand and learn from the history of the Holocaust. We often say that we must teach about the Holocaust and learn from it so that no such depravity is ever permitted to happen again. “Never again” is one of the most important moral lessons the world can draw from the Holocaust. But the world has been far from perfect in applying this lesson – mass atrocities such as the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Darfur, and Xinjiang show that very clearly. But we are trying to do better, including by bringing a measure of justice through efforts to support war crimes units, and international investigative mechanisms and courts like those in The Hague. Our efforts to prevent and deter atrocities also include peacekeeping operations, and education. The United States, for example, supports programs to train teachers to teach about the Holocaust and supports exchange programs for teachers, people involved in civil society and law enforcement, as well as others to learn about confronting antisemitism and Holocaust distortion and denial. Education means not only teaching the facts of the Holocaust and other genocides and mass killings, but also teaching tolerance and inclusivity, so that – we hope – in the future people will be less inclined to discriminate against and harm or even kill those who are different from them. That kind of education has been shown to have positive associations. The Anti-Defamation League, the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation, and Yad Vashem carried out a survey in 2020 of American university students. The survey looked at the relationship between Holocaust education and students’ behavior and attitudes. Students who had received Holocaust education in their high school classes not only did better in their historical knowledge of the Holocaust, but also had “more pluralistic attitudes” and were “more open to differing viewpoints.” They were also more willing to challenge intolerant behavior in other people. Correlation is not causation, of course, but those survey results at least offer some hope that teaching about the Holocaust can have positive effects on people’s behavior in the real world. One of the real challenges in countering Holocaust denial and distortion is that such efforts inevitably get caught up in debates about freedom of expression. Many European countries have laws criminalizing Holocaust denial and promotion of Nazi ideology. The United States, however, does not criminalize hate speech of any kind, including Holocaust denial and promotion of Nazi ideology, as odious as it may be. In fact, in the United States, the First Amendment to the Constitution broadly protects speech, including offensive speech, from government regulation. In a seminal court case that tested the limits of free speech, in 1977 a group of neo-Nazis sought a permit to