Being Jewish, I Say This through Gritted Teeth. but We Must Never Let Brussels Turn Holocaust Denial into a Crime
Byline: Melanie Phillips
LATER this week, a London magistrates' court will hear a bail application in an extradition case which should be ringing alarm bells.
A German-born Australian citizen, Fredrick T?ben, was arrested as he passed through Heathrow by British police acting under an EU arrest warrant issued by the German authorities.
The Germans have accused him of publishing antisemitic Holocaust-denial material on his Australian website.
There is no doubt that the views expressed by T?ben, a notorious falsifier of history who was previously sentenced to nine months' jail in Germany for breaching its Holocaust-denial law, are vile. He says, for example, that there is no proof that Hitler systematically exterminated the Jews and that Auschwitz was merely a 'transit camp'.
As a Jew, I am acutely alive to the vicious potential of denying the Nazis' attempted extermination of the world's Jews. Such lies are used to whip up hatred against the Jewish people by effectively accusing them of fabricating claims of genocide.
There is no question that this not only denies the historical evidence of Hitler's 'Final Solution', but also subjects Jews round the world to further hatred and persecution. Holocaust-denial is, indeed, a modern form of Jew-hatred.
Bedrock But, through gritted teeth, I have to say that I am totally against the extradition of this man and appalled at the political and legal developments that have brought these moves about.
There are two fundamental issues at stake here. First is the threat to the principle of freedom of speech. Second is the erosion of Britain's power to uphold its own historic commitment to that principle.
Freedom of speech is a bedrock of our society. Sure, it's not absolute; but we limit it only in the most rare of circumstances where it poses a direct threat to individuals, such as inciting or encouraging people to violence.
For similar reasons, we also outlaw incitement to racial hatred. But we draw a distinction, for example, between inciting hatred of people for what they inescapably are, which we rightly treat as a crime, and inciting hatred of their views, which we see as part of the cut and thrust of a liberal democratic society. That's why there was such uproar over the new crime of incitement to religious hatred.
It's because of this respect for debate that this country has never criminalised Holocaust- denial.
Odious as it is, it is an interpretation of history and one which in any event defies easy categorisation.
True, it's an interpretation that is used to stir up hatred against Jewish people.
But once you argue that it should therefore be made a crime, there's no end to it..
After all, you could make exactly the same point that the current vilification of Israel and the denial that it is the victim of aggression in the Middle East has led to an upsurge in violence and prejudice against Jews worldwide.
Even more fundamentally, classic English literature is stuffed with anti-Jewish stereotypes and attitudes.
But no one would suggest that expressing such opinions about Israel should therefore be made a crime, or that such literary classics should be censored.
In a free society, the proper antidote to the dissemination of lies is the expression of the truth. The arch Holocaust-denier David Irving was jailed for this crime in Austria. Did that expunge his poison? Of course not; if anything, it helped him pose as a martyr.
What was more effective was surely the destruction of his ideas in a British courtroom when he chose to bring a libel action which rebounded against him by discrediting his claim to be a 'historian' and ending with his denunciation by the trial judge as a 'pro-Nazi polemicist'. …