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The threat of Holocaust denial

Given the clear phenomenological importance of the Holocaust in Israeli Jewish cultural consciousness (Bar-On, 2008; Stein, 1978), it was unsurprising that individuals should find Holocaust denial abhorrent and highly threatening for identity. This was clearly observable in individuals' responses to Holocaust denial:

This [Holocaust denial] goes against everything I believe and stand for, stands

against truth. (Anita, female)

When they deny, they kill another memory. It is taking away our biggest tragedy

from us. It is out of our reach. (Yehuda, male)

When the President of Iran said this, it just made me feel sick because he was trying to change history and change what we know to be true and it felt as if he was managing to do this. (Ofir, male)

Participants' accounts suggested that the perception of Holocaust denial among Arabs and Muslims posed a threat to the continuity principle of identity. Anita indicated that Holocaust denial imposed discontinuity because it contradicted her beliefs and the truth. Similarly, Ofir invoked the Iranian president's denial of the Holocaust in order to exemplify the prevalence of Holocaust denial. This too was threatening for continuity because it was construed as an attempt to “change history” and to alter the truth. Like Anita, Ofir regarded Holocaust denial as introducing discontinuity by replacing truth with fallacy. There was a perception among individuals that Holocaust denial reflected a malicious attempt to take
away from the Jewish ingroup “our biggest tragedy” by denying that it had taken place (Litvak, 2006). Yehuda described this metaphorically as “killing another memory”, which constructed Holocaust denial as an act of immorality. Holocaust denial was rendered all the more threatening for continuity, because there was a perception among individuals that governments and institutions were succeeding in their campaign to convince the world that the Holocaust constituted a myth.

The perceived effi of the campaign of Holocaust denial was threatening for self-effi among individuals, since they believed that it was impossible to impact public opinion in the Arab and Muslim worlds due to the prevalence of antisemitism:

Israel has resources, like money and industry, but it cannot reach the Arab world to educate it and tell it the truth. Not its version but the undeniable truth of the Holocaust. Arabs won't listen. Muslims go to their mosques and there they are brainwashed. Why will they listen to Jews? They just see us as colonists or something. This makes me feel very, very incompetent, as a people we are powerless in this field. (Tal, male)

I read it [an article about President Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial] and I just felt helpless. How do I honour the dead? How do I tell these stupid people “my father's uncle and his family died in the Holocaust”? I'm a victim of this, my family is. (Dana, female)

Tal and Dana highlighted their feelings of inability and helplessness in relation to Holocaust denial, because they believed that it was impossible to challenge Holocaust denial among some outgroups. Tal indicated that, while Israel was a self-efficacious and self-sufficient nation-state due to its wealth and industrial development, it lacked the necessary social and political capital to “reach out to the Arab world”. This inability to “educate” the Arab world was attributed to prevalent antisemitism in this outgroup context. Tal highlighted the centrality of Muslim religious identity in the Arab world, and the centrality of antisemitism to the Islamic religious institutions of these countries, where individuals were allegedly “brainwashed”. Such religious antisemitism rendered any first-hand engagement with the populations of these countries impossible. Similarly, Dana reflected upon her experience of reading an Israeli newspaper article concerning President Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial, which also evoked feelings of helplessness. More specifically, she felt completely disempowered – she believed it was impossible to “honour the dead” by convincing the Iranian population of the truth that the Holocaust did take place. She highlighted her own victimhood by drawing attention to the fact that her relatives had perished in the Holocaust and that she was, therefore, living testimony to the fact that the Holocaust had occurred. Like Tal, her sense of self-efficacy appeared to be imperilled by her inability to communicate the truth. Tal concluded that “Arabs won't listen”, which accentuated the threat to the self-efficacy principle of identity – he, as a member of the Jewish Israeli ingroup, felt incompetent and powerless. The self-esteem principle seemed to be severely jeopardised as a result of Holocaust denial in the Arab and Muslim world. More specifically, individuals highlighted the feelings of shame that had come to surround discussions of the Holocaust, which was reminiscent of the cultural silence surrounding the Holocaust in post-independence Israel (Bar-On, 2008):

Well, look when people deny the Holocaust, say “how could Jews be gassed when there were not enough gas chambers” and then they accuse us of lying to create our state, this is a horrific insult. It makes us feel ashamed and almost afraid to talk about the Holocaust. We know it's true but I feel people are thinking I'm hiding behind it. That makes me feel very small. (Maya, female)

On the one hand, many Israeli Jews, and indeed many non-Jews in the world, believe that it is important to discuss the Holocaust and to disseminate knowledge about its antecedents and consequences, in order to avoid genocide in the future (Jikeli and Allouche-Benayoun, 2013; Short, 1994). Yet, some participants experienced feelings of shame when discussing the Holocaust due to their awareness of Holocaust denial. Maya stated that Holocaust denial made her feel insulted, ashamed and disempowered, because she believed that some people accepted the polemic social representation that the Holocaust never occurred. Her observation that this made her “feel very small” suggested that Holocaust denial had negative implications for the self-esteem principle of identity. Like Maya, some individuals felt unable to derive a positive self-conception due to the perception that others accused the Jewish ingroup of lying about the tragedy of the Holocaust. Therefore, as a coping strategy, individuals appeared to avoid discussions of the Holocaust (cf. Bar-On, 2008).

Holocaust denial appeared to induce fear regarding the future among some individuals, who came to perceive Holocaust deniers as inherently evil and irrational people (Jaspal and Yampolsky, 2011). There was a perception that due to their Holocaust denial they were capable of any atrocity:

This [Holocaust denial] makes me think that the regime [Islamic Republic of Iran] is evil and the people who believe it are evil. How can you see those images on TV, newspapers, in museums, of dead people and dead children and still deny that it happened? People who do it are not human, they are just evil. (Boaz, male)

Boaz appeared to view the Islamic Republic of Iran as “evil” due to its institutionalisation of Holocaust denial. Like Boaz, several participants assumed that Holocaust denial must be widespread in the Iranian general population due to their perception of Iran as a threat. There was a generalisation of Iranian institutionalised representations to the general population. Individuals appeared to attribute the trait of irrationality to Holocaust deniers because of the abundant evidence (i.e. television, media, museums) that the Holocaust did occur and that it
caused immense suffering to Jews. Participants regarded people who ignored the abundant evidence which depicts “dead people and dead children” as inhuman and evil – there was a dehumanisation of Holocaust deniers.

Some individuals regarded Holocaust denial as exemplifying hatred against the Jewish people, which could culminate in “another Holocaust”:

To me, the Muslims, when they deny the Holocaust, our biggest tragedy, it just proves that this can happen again and it proves that they would not hesitate to push this agenda forward [ … ] If Israel is not vigilant, this could be the beginning of the end. (Dan, male)

Although most individuals in the study perceived Israel as a powerful and selfefficacious state which was capable of defending itself from hostile outgroups, there was a perception that Israel must remain vigilant in order to sustain this level of self-defence. For Dan, Holocaust denial represented an attempt to challenge the State of Israel and its ability to function as a safe haven for Jews, because there was a social representation that Holocaust denial was intended to challenge the legitimacy of Israel. He argued that Holocaust denial itself proved that this could happen again, because it symbolised complacency and a loss of cultural memory regarding the actions and events that had ultimately culminated in this act of genocide. Moreover, Dan argued that Holocaust denial shed light on the attitudes and orientations of Holocaust deniers, namely that “they would not hesitate to push this agenda forward”, namely to perpetrate genocide against the Jews. Thus, it seemed that some participants perceived Holocaust denial as posing an indirect threat to group continuity among Israeli Jews. It was regarded as contributing to the likelihood of acts of genocide against the Jews.

In view of its perceived threat to Israel, individuals called for group-level action against Holocaust denial in order to minimise its impact:

What I see [in Iran] is an alliance of people who have evil intentions against the Jewish people, the people of Israel, and we should unite against them all. Every person with a good heart. (Naomi, female)

There was a widespread perception that Holocaust denial should not be ignored because it posed a threat to Jews and provided scope for the repetition of genocide. Like Boaz, Naomi perceived Holocaust deniers as having “evil intentions” and as threatening the Jewish people, which in turn induced a call for people “with a good heart” to unite against Holocaust denial. Naomi included both Jews and non-Jews in this call for mobilisation. Breakwell (1986, p. 142) has argued that individuals will engage in group action in order to “change the social order” for “revising the relative power of groups and devising new ideological systems”. Indeed, in this context individuals appeared to call for a revision of the power exercised by hostile outgroups that disseminate antisemitic social representations concerning
the Holocaust and to challenge their ideological systems. This was perceived as a strategy for eradicating the threat that Holocaust denial clearly posed to identity.

The data indicated unequivocally that the Israeli Jews who participated in this study regarded the Holocaust as an important aspect of their ethno-religious group's history and identity. Thus, Holocaust denial was perceived as a hostile attack against the ethno-religious ingroup and Holocaust deniers as posing a threat to the Jewish ingroup. Participants unanimously regarded Holocaust denial as an aspect of antisemitism, which was threatening for identity (Breakwell, 1986). Accordingly, respondents deployed various strategies for coping with the threat and, as discussed in the next section of this chapter, for re-establishing feelings of belonging and self-esteem

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