In Letter to Zuckerberg, Holocaust Experts Warn Facebook CEO Not to Ignore anti-Semitism

Figures from over 20 Holocaust centers worldwide offer to educate social media community, following Zuckerberg's comments that his site would not remove posts denying the Holocaust

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaking at a developers conference in San Jose, California, May 1, 2018.
\ Stephen Lam/ REUTERS

Twenty-five leading Holocaust figures and educators worldwide wrote to Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, offering to meet him and help raise Holocaust awareness within the Facebook community.

"Facebook must not allow complete and utter falsehoods about the Holocaust, and about the Jewish people, to go systematically unchecked," they wrote. "Freedom of speech laws are not a reason to do nothing – inaction is aways the opportunity for evil to flourish."

Zuckerberg was widely criticized last month after he said Facebook would not automatically remove a post denying the Holocaust from the social media site. 

“I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened,” he said in an interview with the Recode tech website. “I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down.” 

Germany was among those who were quick to slam Zuckerberg for his approach. “There must be no place for anti-Semitism. This includes verbal and physical attacks on Jews as well as the denial of the Holocaust,” Justice Minister Katarina Barley said. “The latter is also punishable by us and will be strictly prosecuted.”

Henry Grunwald OBE, chairman of the U.K. National Holocaust Centre and Museum, posted the letter sent to Zuckerberg on his Twitter account. The letter was accompanied by a July 27 story on the front page of The Times of London, titled "Antisemitic hate posts allowed by Facebook."

"No society can afford to ignore, hide or bury antisemitism if it wishes to remain civilized," the letter stated. "History proves that it is the canary in the coal mine; the first unravelling of a society's moral fabric."

It continued: "Since Facebook runs across the national borders which constitute society, we beseech you to work with us to protect society against one of the longest and darkest hatreds which, in the space of just three generations, is seriously beginning to threaten it once again."

The signatories included Simon Bentley, the head of Yad Vashem U.K.; Prof. Peter Schafer from the Jewish Museum Berlin; Stephen D. Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation; Laura Marks, chairwoman of the U.K. Holocaust Memorial Day Trust; and Diane Lee, director general of the Imperial War Museum in London.  

The group offered to meet with Zuckerberg "to scope a specific and bespoke education program, aiming at raising Holocaust awareness and acceptance within the Facebook community."

They also quoted Zuckerberg's Recode interview in their closing paragraph. "Powered by the good ethics and willing of you and your team, and the primary research, educational tools, creative resources and survivor testimony of our global Holocaust expert network – we can together help those who are 'getting a few things wrong' to get a few things right."

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt also challenged Zuckerberg's position last month, calling Holocaust denial “a willful, deliberate and long-standing deception tactic by anti-Semites that is incontrovertibly hateful, hurtful, and threatening to Jews. Facebook has a moral and ethical obligation not to allow its dissemination.”

Greenblatt added that his organization would “continue to challenge Facebook on this position and call on them to regard Holocaust denial as a violation of their community guidelines.”