Anti-Semitism that expresses itself through Holocaust denial has garnered much of its recent U.S. notoriety by targeting college students. Through campus newspaper advertisements, videotapes and computer networks, the pseudo-scholars who seek to inflame "debate" about the veracity of the Holocaust have made inroads at colleges and universities, attracting national attention through the controversies that erupt on campuses over the publication of their lies.
Just as anti-Semitism on campuses cloaked itself as Anti-Zionism in the 1970s and 1980s, Holocaust denial now serves as a campus vehicle for spreading hatred of Jews. By presenting their thesis as an academic question deserving debate, the deniers have found fertile ground among campus newspaper editors eager to demonstrate their commitment to free speech and the airing of controversial ideas. And through the student editors, Holocaust deniers have found an inexpensive method of reaching thousands of impressionable young adults who often have limited knowledge of the Holocaust and are in the process of forming their perceptions of world history. (To be sure, many campus editors have rejected efforts to use their publications for the spread of such propaganda.)
Holocaust deniers, falsely claiming to be legitimate historical "revisionists," portray themselves as scholars seeking the truth behind what they term the largest hoax of the 20th century. Their success does not depend on convincing college students that the murder of six million Jews never occurred; rather, just the idea that the genocide can be called debatable and that its scope can be doubted, means that the deniers have scored propaganda points.
Holocaust "revisionism" emerged as an organized propaganda movement in 1979 when Willis Carto, the founder of Liberty Lobby-the nation's largest anti-Semitic organization-established the Institute for Historical Review (IHR). Based in Southern California, IHR enables professors with no credentials in history, writers without academic certification and career anti-Semites to engage in pseudo-academic efforts to deny the Holocaust.
IHR has found its niche on campuses through its Media Project Director, Bradley Smith, who leads the so-called Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust (CODOH). In the spring of 1991, Smith submitted a full-page paid advertisement to The Daily Northwestern of Northwestern University (the academic home of Arthur Butz, an electrical engineering professor who wrote a book in 1976, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, arguing that the Holocaust never happened). The newspaper printed the ad, which looked like a news article with the headline, "THE HOLOCAUST STORY: How Much is False? The Case for Open Debate."
In a pseudo-scholarly vein, Smith stated that the "Holocaust lobby" prevents scholars from pursuing a thorough examination of the "orthodox Holocaust story." He alleged a lack of proof that Jews were gassed at Auschwitz or that millions of people died there. He contended that the piles of corpses photographed at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen were not a result of a German plan to murder Jews, but rather the result of disease and starvation caused by the flood of refugees into Germany as the Soviet army advanced in early 1945. He did not couch his argument in blatantly anti-Semitic terms, but in a seemingly rational, thoughtful manner designed to provoke serious consideration of his views.
Needless to say, the advertisement, which appeared on April 4, 1991, sparked a furor on campus. It led to letters and Op-Ed pieces in the school paper and lectures and forums on campus about the issue. That, in turn, attracted wide media coverage in the Chicago area.
Obviously pleased with the tumult his advertisement caused, Smith submitted his ads to more campus newspapers in the fall of 1991, beginning with the University of Michigan. During the 1991-92 school year, the ad was published in nearly a third of the more than 60 campus papers to which it was submitted. The material was printed either as a full-page advertisement or as an Op-Ed piece with commentary by the editors, in either case generating controversy wherever it was read. No matter how loud or numerous the condemnations of the substance of Smith's material, the national attention provided a victory, or at least validation, for the Holocaust denial movement.
In the spring 1992 semester, Smith peddled a second ad, devoted to the issue of "Jewish Soap," in which he sought to build on the notoriety generated by the first ad. But this time, not a single campus newspaper accepted it, including many that had published the first one.
Smith was quiet during the 1992-93 academic year. At the beginning of the 1993-94 year, however, he launched a new advertising blitz, challenging the veracity of the newly opened U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and attacking the work of Emory University's Professor Deborah Lipstadt in her acclaimed book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.
This advertisement was more strident in its arguments and accusations than was the first:
The Deborah Lipstadts [sic]-and there is a clique of them on every campus-work to suppress revisionist research and demand that students and faculty ape their fascist behavior . . . To many it will appear impossible that deception on such a grand scale can actually be taking place.
By the end of the spring 1994 semester, Smith's ad had been published, in various formats, in 32 campus newspapers, although it had been rejected by many others. A particularly furious controversy erupted when the ad was printed in December 1993, in The Justice, the student newspaper of predominantly Jewish Brandeis University; the uproar was covered by national news organizations, including in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Time magazine. The ad cost $130, but the check was never cashed as the editors donated it to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum-which refused the money. About 2,000 copies of the paper were stolen from distribution stands the day the ad appeared. Campus police guarded the 4,000 new copies that were ordered and distributed two days later, the same day that 250 students held a protest rally.
Smith and his colleagues also garnered widespread media attention when the ad was published-along with an accompanying editorial and a banner headline reading, "An illustration of hate"-in the Queens College Quad, the student newspaper at Queens College, a campus of the City University of New York with a 30 percent Jewish population. The resulting controversy was included in a segment on Holocaust denial on the CBS news magazine, 60 Minutes. That was followed by a one-hour Donahue program featuring Smith and CODOH representative David Cole. The editors at Queens, like those at Brandeis, refused to accept the advertising fee, and the two events netted Smith invaluable free publicity from the nation's most venerated news organs.
During the 1994-95 academic year, Smith again held off on submitting advertisements. Instead, he sent 250 campus editors copies of a video (see previous reference) in which David Cole-who claims Jewish parentage-provides a tour of Auschwitz from a denier's viewpoint. Three papers-those at the University of Akron, Tulane University and Rowan College of New Jersey-printed uncritical summaries of the video written by inexperienced staffers. In each case, the editors later printed apologies after students and ADL protested the falsity of the articles.
In early to mid-April 1995, Smith began submitting his ad to campus newspapers again. The advertisement, the same one used during the 1993-94 academic year, was no doubt distributed with an eye on timing, as it was received during or right after Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), just before final exams, and often in time for the last issue of the semester. The possibility for an effective on-campus response was limited at the 17 schools where the ad was printed. But the schools where the advertisement appeared were also nowhere as large or prestigious as the group of colleges and universities where Smith's first advertisement appeared in 1991 and 1992. This might signal that Smith's message has become a bit shopworn and that many campus editors are wise to his tactics and motivation.
Campus editors need not feel that constitutional principles of free expression are at work when deciding whether to print Smith's material. The First Amendment does not compel journalists to disseminate lies that fuel anti-Semitism. Just as most campus editors would not print an overtly racist or sexist advertisement filled with obvious lies and distortions, they should exercise that same right of refusal when it comes to material defaming Jews.
The advertisements and speaking appearances by Holocaust deniers lead well-meaning students and academics into the trap of debating the "revisionists" on their own terms. The deniers seek to create an ongoing debate over the existence of the Holocaust. But the principle of a free press and the quest for truth on campus do not mean that students must be subject to blatant lies about the near-extinction of European Jewry. Encouragingly, many campus journalists are by now familiar with Bradley Smith and will not publish his material, denying him the publicity and legitimacy he craves. Smith, however, relies on the rapid turnover and limited institutional memories of most campus newspaper staffs.
The 1995-96 academic year did not see much Bradley Smith propaganda in college newspapers. He has tried peddling a classified advertisement to tout a denier's Internet site. The ad reads, "46 Unanswered Questions About the German Gas Chambers Free on the World Wide Web." The questions are written by David Cole, and Internet surfers reaching the site have the option of ordering Cole's video tour of Auschwitz. The advertisement ran twice in October 1995 in The Diamondback at the University of Maryland, but was pulled due to student protests. It was rejected by newspapers at the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago and Pierce College in Tacoma, Washington. A similar ad, reading "46 Revisionist Questions about the World War Two 'Gas Chambers,'" also ran at least five times in the Cornell Daily Sun in February and March 1996, engendering considerable controversy on campus. The newspaper, in an editorial, recognized the ad as "hate-filled" but justified continued publication as serving the cause of free speech and "open debate." As a result of the advertisement, Cornell Hillel invited the ADL director of campus affairs to speak at Cornell about Holocaust denial and advise them on strategies to counteract it. Soon afterwards, a newly elected editorial staff decided to terminate the publication of the ad.
It may seem that Smith has been focusing recently more on developing his World Wide Web site than on exploiting campus media, but the Internet is even more of an ideal tool to reach students than college newspapers. Students are frequent Web surfers, and their access to cyberspace is often free. What is more, they may examine the material in complete privacy and at their convenience. The Internet also allows Smith to circumvent newspaper editors who might reject his advertisements, and is more cost-effective and far-reaching than student publications. However, the computer material must be sought out, with no guarantee that college students will find it or, if they do, explore it further. Hence, Smith has coordinated his Web and advertising strategies by running small, inexpensive ads promoting his Web site.
In addition to the efforts of Bradley Smith and David Cole, college students may be subject to Holocaust-denial theories from within academia as well. Northwestern University's resident faculty denier, Arthur Butz, for instance, promotes his own Holocaust-denial materials on his University-provided faculty Web site. This site links the surfer to other Holocaust-denial, racist and anti-Semitic sites including those of Bradley Smith, Greg Raven (currently head of the IHR) and Wellesley professor Tony Martin. At Washington State University, an anonymous student has produced his own Holocaust-denial Web site with equivalent linkages.
In April 1995, a student at Northeastern University in Boston noticed several Holocaust denial texts in the school's main library. The books were found in the history section, alongside genuine texts about the Holocaust, and included titles such as The Six Million Reconsidered and The Real Eichmann Trial. ADL protested, asking in a letter to Dean Alan Benenfeld, the director of the school libraries, that the books be moved off the library's history shelves and to a section dealing with anti-Semitism, propaganda or hate literature. Dean Benenfeld responded, writing that the university would investigate the matter. Ten months later, he told ADL that the school had discovered "inconsistencies" in the library's cataloguing system, and was switching to the system used by the Library of Congress that includes a category for misinformation and propaganda.
But administrative improvements do not solve the problem raised by the presentation of these books as legitimate history texts. The fact that university librarians would place anti-Semitic propaganda alongside genuine scholarly works by known historians demonstrates either carelessness, a decline in library standards, or the growing acceptance of "revisionism" within academia and the need for effective education to counter the deniers. The books' placement on the history shelves only perpetuates the false impression that debate over the veracity of the Holocaust is part of serious academia, instead of the work of a few well-organized anti-Semites.
No data has been collected on campuses regarding the effect of denial propaganda on college students' attitudes about the Holocaust. Surveys regarding its impact on the American public are inconclusive, with varying results.
Source: Schooled in Hate: Anti-Semitism On Campus, ADL, 1997. Copyright Anti-Defamation League (ADL). All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.