#NoDenyingIt: The Claims Conference’s Fight Against Facebook

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Facebook’s Community Standards Policy aims to remove abusive or harmful behavior found on the site, but does that apply to all types of behavior? The Claims Conference, a Holocaust survivor resource organization, recently started a campaign entitled #NoDenyingIt to call out Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, for not declaring that Holocaust denial is a form of hate speech in the Community Standards Policy. 

The Claims Conference is one of the only entities that negotiates on behalf of Holocaust survivors with the German government for items such as compensation payments, pension payments, and health care. This is something that’s been going on since the year 1952 and it is not full compensation; they are merely symbolic payments. The payments are very small, ranging from $1500 and up to $2500. For the survivors, it’s about recognition. It’s about Holocaust survivors being recognized for the suffering that they’ve endured, and recognition on behalf of the German government for the atrocities brought by the Nazi Party.

In the decades preceding the Holocaust, there has been a growing presence of Holocaust denial throughout the world. There are people that believe that the Holocaust is an elaborate lie. They believe that gas chambers and extermination camps weren’t actually used, that the Germans didn’t kill the Jews, only deported them, and/or that the number of Jews that died was much less than the actual 6 million total. 

Ever since the Facebook Community Standards Policy came out, Holocaust denial has been notably absent from the list of behaviors considered worthy of removal from the site. This obviously concerned the Conference, and shortly after, they reached out to Facebook in an effort to discuss the matter with them. However, Facebook refused to add it to their Policy, for as a Claims Conference spokesperson informed, adding Holocaust denial to the Policy would be a violation of people’s right to free speech. 

In places like Germany, where Holocaust denial is illegal, Facebook removes Holocaust denial, sometimes within 20 hours of being notified so they can do it, but the common understanding is that Facebook is choosing not to do it in America. It is the issue of whether or not the First Amendment right to free speech, is violated, by preventing the publication of Holocaust denial that has led to this campaign’s foundation. 

When their concerns fell on deaf ears, that’s when the #NoDenyingIt campaign came to fruition. 

#NoDenyingIt is a series of video messages from Holocaust survivors urging Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to remove Holocaust denial and distortion from the platform – the survivors  talk about the suffering they endured, but more specifically how they persevered during that time period, and what Zuckerberg’s inactivity does to them. The Claims Conference collects these videos and publishes them on their social media pages, with the hope that Mark Zuckerberg finally concedes and, at the very least, sits down with the Conference’s executive board for a face-to-face meeting (which would be conducted over Zoom to comply with COVID-19 precautions). 

One of the contributors to this campaign is Holocaust survivor, and Board Member of the Claims Conference Sidney Zoltak. Zoltak is a published author and Holocaust survivor who has written about the atrocities he witnessed during the Holocaust. He travels all over the world to visit groups of students in high schools and universities about the personal tragedies of his family and of his community. Zoltak’s work has been praised by many, so much so that he has been featured on a special documentary filmed by CBC. The film, made in coordination with the March of the Living Project, was screened at film festivals such as the Hamilton Jewish Film Festival, the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival, and the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.

Zoltak was offered the presidential position at the The Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants, where he assumed the role from 2007 to 2018. During those years, he oversaw the functionality of the Conference, propelling it to where it is today. Although he has stepped down from the role since then, he currently plays a large role in The Claims Conference as a board member and a member of the Leadership Council. When he was approached about making a video for the #NoDenyingIt campaign, he immediately said yes and gave his testimony:

“My name is Sidney Zoltak and I’m a Holocaust survivor. I was born and raised in a small town in eastern Poland and survived the war there. This message is to Mark Zuckerberg. Mark – My message to you is that Facebook is full of hate. Denying the Holocaust is hate speech. My community of 7,000 Jews was murdered. Only 1% survived. None of my friends, nor my classmates survived. When people say the Holocaust did not exist, they are actually calling me a liar. We are witnesses to a horrible tragedy. There is absolutely no denying it!”

You can view the testimony (click here) on the Claims Conference’s social media pages or by visiting their website. 

On October 12, 2020, Holocaust survivors and Jews rejoiced as Mark Zuckerberg made the historic decision to finally ban Holocaust denial on Facebook. In a press release given by Zuckerberg himself, the Facebook CEO commented, “We’ve long taken down posts that praise hate crimes or mass murder, including the Holocaust. But with rising anti-Semitism, we’re expanding our policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust as well. If people search for the Holocaust on Facebook, we’ll start directing you to authoritative sources to get accurate information.” 

This is something that many Jewish organizations have been pleading for as Holocaust denial came to fruition on the Internet. He continued by adding, “I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust. My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech. Drawing the right lines between what is and isn’t acceptable speech isn’t straightforward, but with the current state of the world, I believe this is the right balance.” 

On October 15, 2020, Twitter has followed suit, issuing a statement that read, “We strongly condemn anti-Semitism, and hateful conduct has absolutely no place on our service.” 

Zoltak was personally relieved at the outstanding news, sharing that it’s something that has been a long time in the making: “As a survivor, I am very happy that Mark Zuckerberg has finally [conceded], after probably hearing our pleas, our painful pleas, [for] every time we make a statement asking someone to do something to honor the victims of the Holocaust, it’s painful,” he shared. “But nevertheless, I am glad I was a participant of this campaign. The Facebook people have finally seen the light, and has now not-allowed Holocaust deniers to post lies anymore. [Holocaust deniers] are anti-semites – they are not just denying the Holocaust because of the Holocaust; they are also doing it to hurt Jewish survivors.”

In addition, Zoltak recently worked with the Claims Conference Allocations Committee to facilitate more monetary reparations from the German government to Holocaust survivors in need, which is especially urgent in the COVID-19 era. As he phrased it, “In this pandemic, if you can have a good couple of days then it’s a win-win.”

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