An Austrian court on Monday sentenced British Holocaust denier David Irving to three years behind bars, thereby sparking a controversy about whether it's appropriate to imprison anyone for ostensibly only voicing his opinions. The problem is that denying the murder of six million Jews is not an "opinion," but hate speech. In 1989 Irving had delivered three lectures in Austria in which he contended that the Nazis had not exterminated Jews in World War II. At the time disputing the existence or extent of the Holocaust was already illegal in Austria, homeland of the two most notorious Adolfs - Hitler and Eichmann. As a result a warrant was issued for Irving's arrest. When he decided last November to return to Austria and yet again address neo-Nazi audiences, he knew he was running a risk. Nevertheless, Irving opted for testing the limit of his hosts' tolerance, assuming perhaps that they would not dare detain him, or that at most he would spend a few nights in jail, and thus once more turn the media spotlight upon himself. Irving had courted disaster before. In 2000 he sued American scholar Deborah Lipstadt for libel in the UK and lost ignominiously. The presiding judge at that trial dubbed him "an active Holocaust denier, an anti-Semite and racist." Yet Lipstadt yesterday joined those who oppose prison terms for anyone exercising the right of free speech, no matter how abhorrent the message. As a newspaper, we are hardly unsympathetic to the need to interpret the freedom of speech broadly. It surely includes the right to be offensive, as should be clear in the context of the rioting of Islamists over cartoons. But it is not for nothing that Austria, Germany and even France enacted laws forbidding Holocaust denial. These laws exist because Holocaust denial is not another mindless theory. The fact is that Holocaust denial has become the primary conduit for modern anti-Semitism. The favorite theme of all Jew-bashers of whatever variety is to portray the Holocaust as a Zionist fabrication contrived to hold the world to ransom, usurp Arab land and facilitate the implant of an interloper Jewish state within the Muslim sphere. Holocaust denial is a common contention of those who seek to delegitimize Israel and promulgate Nazi-inspired bigotry. The denial of genocide is a warning sign of movements that have genocidal goals and endorse genocidal acts. Irving, therefore, wasn't sentenced for his "opinions," but for disseminating hate and incitement. Countries where past excessive permissiveness spawned the worst genocidal horrors are right to be ultra-wary of repeat leniency for inflammatory rhetoric. In today's intemperate climate we can only applaud the resolve demonstrated by the Viennese court. Holocaust deniers throughout the Mideast frequently quote Irving and his like. Irving operates in a particularly explosive context and his professed contrition must not be believed. It was uttered, as Irving stressed to British TV, only at his attorney's insistence. Significantly Irving chose to enter court holding aloft his most controversial volume, Hitler's War which exonerates the fuhrer from plotting the "final solution." Nothing he says should be taken at face value. Lipstadt quipped: "If Irving said it was day, I'd open the window to check." Individually, Irving may be every bit as pathetic as many claim. Indeed he will no doubt posture as the latest martyr of an international Jewish cabal. But it is not just about Irving's personal hang-ups. He has become a prophet of sorts not only for Europe's skinheads and neo-Nazis, but for their unlikely Mideastern cohorts. The fact that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad initiates Holocaust denial symposia and a government-controlled Iranian newspaper commissions a Holocaust-lampooning cartoon contest attests to the importance Iran attaches to this "opinion." The fact that Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah echoes his Teheran master and that the PA's newly elected Hamas leaders have chosen to hobnob with their Iranian sponsors underscores the commonality of motivation which stokes their enmity. It is, in short, no coincidence that those entities most openly dedicated to a new genocide against the Jewish state are all closely allied... and vocally deny the Holocaust.