Policing Anti-Semitism – Is America’s Way the Right Way?

Image Source:  http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/focus/denial/images/iran-demonstration.jpg


In the United States, as per the First Amendment, “hate speech must be likely to cause violence or harm before it can be deemed criminal.” However, in the European Union, “speech can be prohibited even if it is only abusive, insulting or likely to disturb public order.”

In October of 2012, #agoodjew was the third most tweeted subject in France, with most users tweeting phrases like “a good Jew is a dead Jew.” In January of this year, a French court held that Twitter must reveal the identities of such users, most likely so that they can be prosecuted. In 1990, France passed the Gayssot law “to repress racist, anti-Semitic or xenophobic acts and criminalizes Holocaust denial.” Under that law, French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson was prosecuted. While he alleged that the law violated his freedom of expression, the UN Human Rights Committee believed otherwise. In France, “the dissemination of racist content online is punished by fines and terms of imprisonment”, which “increase if the dissemination was public,” meaning on website rather then sent via an email.

In 2012, Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube all complied with German law, and either took “down material posted by a neo-Nazi group[,] or … block[ed] users in Germany from access to the content.” Many European countries like Germany, Belgium, and Austria have Holocaust denial laws. For instance, the “British Holocaust denier David Irving was convicted and imprisoned in 2006” in Austria.

Similarly, Spain made Holocaust denial a criminal violation up until 2007, “when a court ruled in the case of neo-Nazi activist Pedro Valera that Holocaust denial could not be punished with imprisonment because the act falls within free speech.” However, in January of 2013, a new bill was proposed that would make Holocaust denial a criminal offense, but only if it incites violence.


Are Holocaust denial laws more appropriate for European countries, and therefore America does not truly need such laws? Are Europe’s laws too harsh in your eyes? Should certain topics not be veiled by the First Amendment, or is that a slippery slope? Are there any topics that would be appropriate for America to ban, as Europe has banned Holocaust denials?




  1. Anti-Semitic language and actions have a much different effect in Europe than they do in the U.S. It is difficult to say that the United States needs to make the penalty stricter because they were not affected directly the way that most of Europe was. Having traveled through Germany in particular, I know that the straight-arm salute is a criminal offense and that is obviously due to their grim past. It would be hard to implement a similar law in the U.S. (although I would gladly support it) because it would infringe on the first amendment.

    It would create a very slippery slope if the U.S. were to implement a similar law against saying the “N-word” for example. Where does the line end? Would we criminalize racial slurs against white people as well? I think that Europe is correct in their approach due to the proximity of the horrible events during WWII and its comparatively worse racist culture. A simple look at the problems going on in European Football will show you that some of the racial tensions are still deeply rooted and alive and it will take a stronger punishment to eliminate it all together.

  2. I don’t know if “banning” a particular topic would make sense in the United States. Making something illegal sometimes raises public awareness and may even make it irresistible once it has become forbidden. We all know multiple people who want to do something more once we learn that its illegal or dangerous or risky. This reminds me of something Professor Gershman said in evidence: telling a jury not to consider hearsay evidence is like telling someone not to think about a pink elephant. At that point, all you can think about is an enormous, pink elephant. I think that we would only be making a topic the center of attention if we banned it.

    I can’t say that I dislike what Europe has done, though. European countries are sending a message: People must accept the fact that the Holocaust happened and take responsibility for the evil we created and perpetuated. While their speech laws regarding Holocaust denial may be considered “harsh,” I feel that they are appropriate and necessary. Frankly, the Holocaust denial crimes come as no surprise to me, as European countries have yet to mirror the United States and its free-speech tradition.

  3. For the most part I agree with Mr. Masi. I think that the effect that Nazi hate-speech had on Europe during the 1930s-1940s is of an obviously greater concern to the current European Governments than it is to the American Government. After all, the Holocaust and World War II were bred in the back yard of all the nations cited which have banned anti-semetic hate-speech.

    The widely prevalent ethnic divides in Europe have posed a threat to the European Continent throughout history. Conversely, the United States has celebrated and, for the most part, enjoyed diversity and the coexistence of ethnically diverse populations throughout its history. Although slavery certainly shows that the United States has not always been accepting of diversity, the Civil War and subsequent Civil Rights Movement prove that our country is capable of overcoming our differences. It is important to note that American has ascended to equality despite the First Amendment right to free speech.

    In fact, the right to free speech–that is openly discussing what it is that you believe–has been the catalyst for much of the progress that we have achieved in this country. While I am convinced that if the same degree of freedom to speak out as Americans enjoy was guaranteed to Europeans that there would be chaos, I am not willing to concede that the same situation is inevitable in the U.S.

    The United States’ diverse population is the greatest safeguard against the prevalence of extremism. Despite any one group’s ability to ratchet off hateful, racist words, there is always an opposing group that has a strong voice taking the defense. Therefore, in my opinion, our system is designed for the generally unqualified right to free speech that is guaranteed by our Constitution.

    Finally, like Ms. Zefi, I agree that barring anti-semetic speech in this country would have an adverse effect on anti-Semitism. Simply put, free people are inclined to rebel against the invasion of rights that they are entitled to. To ban such speech in response to laws enacted in Europe would be to severely misunderstand the great differences in the people and history of Europe and America, and would certainly violate our Constitution. Therefore, I do not think it would be a good idea to implement the European style laws here. However, I do believe that the laws are necessary in Europe, given its tradition of ethnocentrism.

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