Office of the Chief Rabbi

Thought for the Day: Falsehood is what drives division and fuels hatred

On Holocaust Memorial Day 2017, the Chief Rabbi spoke of the need to challenge falsehood wherever we find it.

“I have always thought it fascinating that Jewish tradition goes beyond a straightforward prohibition against lying. The verse in the Book of Exodus states, “Distance yourself from falsehood”. In other words, it is not enough to simply be truthful. We have a responsibility to create an environment in which there is no tolerance for falsehood.”

TRANSCRIPT

“The Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and if it has happened, it’s uncertain how it has happened.”

“…in a few years’ time no one will believe this particular legend anymore”

“The alleged gas chambers and the alleged genocide of the Jews form one and the same historical lie”

These are the devastating, poisonous words of Holocaust deniers who continue, even today, to inflict the most searing pain upon survivors, their families, the Jewish community and anyone who cares about peace in our fragile world.

‘Falsehood will reign unless we find the conviction to challenge it’

The scourge of these kind of falsehoods is depicted in the release of the movie ‘Denial’ which opens in the UK today, to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day. The film is Hollywood’s take on the book, by American academic Deborah Lipstadt, in which she recounts her legal battle with David Irving, who sued her for libel when she labelled him a Holocaust denier. Since English libel law places the burden of proof on the defendant, she was faced with an unusual challenge: she knew with every fibre of her being that the Holocaust was a matter of historical fact, but could she rise to the challenge of effectively having to prove it in a court of law?

Thankfully, most of us will never have to prove the integrity of what we know to be true before a High Court Judge, but the very idea that falsehood will reign unless we find the conviction to challenge it, represents the kind of powerful wakeup call that our divided world badly needs.

‘It is not enough to simply be truthful. We have a responsibility to create an environment in which there is no tolerance for falsehood’

I have always thought it fascinating that Jewish tradition goes beyond a straightforward prohibition against lying. The verse in the Book of Exodus states, “Distance yourself from falsehood”. In other words, it is not enough to simply be truthful. We have a responsibility to create an environment in which there is no tolerance for falsehood.

Given that political commentary around the world is now saturated with references to ‘post-truth’, there is no more poignant time than Holocaust Memorial Day to recognise that falsehood is not a clever political device. Falsehood is what drives division and fuels hatred.

A man once said, “It would not be impossible to prove, with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned, that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be moulded until they clothe ideas and disguise.” That man was Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda.

History has shown us the evil that falsehood can inflict, so why are we still failing to learn its lessons?