Holocaust denial in the Arab world

The problem is in the hearts and minds of Arab youth.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas looks on during a reception ceremony for Bulgarian President Rumen Radev in Ramallah, in the West Bank, March 22, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas looks on during a reception ceremony for Bulgarian President Rumen Radev in Ramallah, in the West Bank, March 22, 2018
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shocked the world this week with his latest antisemitic speech blaming the Jews for the Holocaust (among other things). Even The New York Times is condemning his statements. A quick glance at Arabic social media, however, shows it’s not just Abbas – Holocaust denial is widespread in the Arab world.
What is surprising, however, is that the Western world is only now starting to take note of Arabic-language Holocaust denial. The bigotry of low expectations is something we can no longer ignore.
If you really want to know what anyone thinks, take a look at their online footprint. Nowhere is that more obvious than with online Arab antisemitism. Holocaust denial is rampant, conspiracy theories abound, and misinformation (or as it’s more popularly termed these days, “fake news”) is an everyday occurrence.
StandWithUs Arabic is one of the leading Arabic-language pages on Facebook in the field of Israel education, engaging millions of Arabic speakers each month. It has become a tool both for monitoring trending misinformation and educating the community with facts.
As a result of the massive reach of the material, it has garnered significant attention from newspapers such as Al Watan in Egypt, which named it one of the “most dangerous pages for Egyptian youth” in 2016.
In our roles as the digital director and the head of Arabic social media at StandWithUs, we have seen and monitored how the plague of Holocaust denial affects the Arabic world. Ironically, Arabic social media related to the Holocaust generally falls into one of two contradictory categories: 1. Holocaust denial; and 2. using the Holocaust and/or Nazism to claim Israel is committing the same crimes against the Arab world or Palestinians.
On a daily basis, StandWithUs Arabic receives shockingly ignorant comments about the Holocaust, in addi- tion to hateful comments about Hitler and the like. One recent comment reads, “I wish you were right and all of them died. Jews are the reason for all the destruc- tion Muslims have.” Another commenter adds, “The number [killed in the Holocaust] is exaggerated; the real number does not exceed 500,000 and all of them died from diseases and hunger. That is what the history says.” A third commenter writes, “The Holocaust is the biggest lie in history... they burned the dead bodies because they were afraid that the diseases will spread.”
Hitler is regularly praised and used to make antisemitic statements (frequently against Israel) on social media, and the fact that Holocaust denial negates their glorification of Hitler is of little relevance to them. For example, if statements like “Hitler should have finished the job” can be found, and “Hitler was a great man,” then how does it follow that there was no Holocaust?
Then again, when has antisemitism ever been logical.
Search Arabic social media and you will find endless viral videos of public figures denying the Holocaust and even claiming it was in fact the Jews who perpetrated the Holocaust, against the Germans. This opinion was recently broadcast on mainstream TV in Egypt, by Egyptian historian Bassem Shamma. In another viral video with hundreds of thousands of views, Abu Itzhak Elhuweny claims that Hitler said, “I could have killed all the Jews, but I left some so the world would know why I was killing them.” Statements which would be appalling in the West reflect mainstream opinion in the Arabic world – with millions of views, thousands of shares and hundreds of comments in agreement.
Of course not everyone in the Arabic world believes such things, but the fact that any world leaders do, and that it is considered by a great many people to be a perfectly normal position, is totally unacceptable. So why is the world silent on Arabic-language Holocaust denial? Why do we continue to see such racist low expectations of the Arabic world?
Much has been said about the role of social media giants in monitoring and deleting this type of hateful content – but the problem runs much deeper than the content. The problem is in the hearts and minds of Arab youth. When this kind of rhetoric is deemed culturally acceptable, is it any wonder we see world leaders like Abbas, who practically has a PhD in Holocaust denial, running the show for the Palestinians?
While StandWithUs Arabic is working continuously to do Holocaust education, there is only so much we can do when world leaders in places like Iran and the West Bank espouse this type of ignorant hate speech. Organizations like StandWithUs are critical to education, but we are part of a cause which needs much more support. The world must unite against this hate speech from the top down and learn to teach not only tolerance, but the truth about the Holocaust in the Arab world. That means holding leaders and public figures accountable on a global scale for teaching antisemitic hate speech, conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial.
Seif Husseini is the head of Arabic social media at StandWithUs. Emily Schrader is the digital director of StandWithUs.