Local Holocaust denial group deemed a hate organization

Thursday, March 30, 2017 - 9:04pm

Deir Yassin Remembered is a local group famous for its weekly protests outside Temple Beth Israel in Ann Arbor.

Deir Yassin Remembered is a local group famous for its weekly protests outside Temple Beth Israel in Ann Arbor. Buy this photo
Amelia Cacchione/Daily

 

Deir Yassin Remembered, a local group famous for its weekly protests outside Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor, has been placed on a list of hate groups compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center under the subcategory of Holocaust denial. According to the Washtenaw Jewish News, Deir Yassin Remembered is "the only sustained action targeting a Jewish house of worship anywhere in the United States.”

Mark Potok, editor-in-chief of the SPLC's quarterly journal, explained the addition in a recent interview on Michigan Radio, stating the group defended Nazism.

"We list them because over the years they have come to more and more explicitly embrace real-life Holocaust denial," he said. "The kind of Holocaust denial that these people practice is essentially a defense of Germany and National Socialism.”

The group's name references the Deir Yassin massacre, a 1948 attack by Zionist military forces on the eponymous Palestinian village that left over 100 people dead in their homes.

Henry Herskovitz, a member of the board of directors for Deir Yassin Remembered and later, a self-described “former Jew,” stirred controversy in 2014 when he campaigned for the release of Ernst Zundel from prison, who was sentenced by a German court to five years in prison for inciting racial hatred through literature he published. 

Zundel, along with co-author Eric Thompson, wrote a book entitled “The Hitler We Loved and Why,” published in 1977.

Though Herskovitz himself has not expressed such strong pro-Nazi sentiment, he does question the existence of the Holocaust. In a July 2016 video posted on the Deir Yassin Remembered website, Herskovitz explained his doubts.

“Why do I support open debate on the Holocaust?” he asked. “Because I want to know what happened and why it happened. Because I resent manipulation, and I feel manipulated and threatened when decent people like Ernst ... are locked up for expressing what they believe … If I say passenger jets did not bring down the two World Trade Centers, I don't go to prison. But when I ask for a single wartime photo of a homicidal gas chamber, in Israel and a dozen other countries, I put myself at risk for prison time."

A member of the Beth Israel congregation, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of harassment by Deir Yassin Remembered, said the group's apparent concern with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israeli apartheid were superficial.

“That is the nominal organization to which they are affiliated, but that is ancillary to their primary motivation,” the member said. “Their primary motivation is a deep anti-Semitism, in the same way as the Ku Klux Klan claims to be defending white rights.”

Devin Jones, a representative of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality –– a student organization that opposes the Israeli apartheid, similarly to DYR -– agreed that DYR's engagement with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not serious.

"Firstly, I think that any group that denies that Holocaust participates in hate speech and contributes to anti-Semitism by denying one of the worst genocides in human history," Jones said. "Thus, if the SPLC found evidence that DYR has denied the Holocaust then their listing as a hate group is justified."

Jones continued to say that DYR's anti-Semitism did more to hurt the BDS movement than help it.

"Any type of racism, including anti-Semitism, is not allowed in the movement. It directly violates the principled approach that BDS takes to end Israeli state racism and apartheid," he said. "Additionally, many Jews support BDS, including Jewish Voice for Peace, and any anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial that occurs by groups supporting BDS excludes Jews from being able to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and ending Israeli apartheid. Thus, DYR cannot fully support BDS until they renounce anti-Semitism and holocaust denial."

The synagogue has asked that people not engage with the picketers.