No need to apologise Mr Kirby

September 26, 2017 by J-Wire Staff
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Expert Australian members of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance have written to The Executive Council of Australian Jewry expressing their view that comments made by the former High Court Judge Michael Kirby drawing lessons from the Holocaust and applying them to the same-sex plebiscite were within acceptable guidelines.

The full text of the letter:

Michael Kirby

As members of Australia’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance we were concerned to see the commentary from the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission criticising Justice Michael Kirby over comments he made in the media.

In our view the comments made on behalf of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission were quite problematic. We note your statement on behalf of ECAJ issued shortly afterwards which rejected these comments and we thank yourself and ECAJ for taking this initiative.

As you are aware, Australia is currently an observer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. We have a delegation appointed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that is headed by an Ambassador and includes experts on various aspects of antisemtism. As the experts in the delegation, we aim to contribute our and Australia’s expertise to the IHRA, and also to share expertise and information from the IHRA back to Australia. In this regard I would like to draw ECAJ’s attention to the IHRA Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion which was adopted at the plenary in Toronto in 2013.

It can be seen at:

The relevant section reads:

Distortion of the Holocaust refers, inter alia, to:

1. Intentional efforts to excuse or minimize the impact of the Holocaust or its principal elements, including collaborators and allies of Nazi Germany;
2. Gross minimization of the number of the victims of the Holocaust in contradiction to reliable sources;
3. Attempts to blame the Jews for causing their own genocide;
4. Statements that cast the Holocaust as a positive historical event. Those statements are not
Holocaust denial but are closely connected to it as a radical form of antisemitism. They may suggest that the Holocaust did not go far enough in accomplishing its goal of “the Final Solution of the Jewish Question”;
5. Attempts to blur the responsibility for the establishment of concentration and death camps devised and operated by Nazi Germany by putting blame on other nations or ethnic groups.

In our opinion Justice Kirby’s comments are clearly not Holocaust denial nor, based on the above internationally accepted definition, do they fall into the category of Holocaust distortion. ECAJ’s policy platform which includes deploring “the inappropriate use of analogies to the Nazi genocide and Nazi tyranny in Australian public debate” is in our opinion consistent with item 1 above as analogies work in both directions and inappropriate analogies therefore “minimize the impact of the Holocaust”.

Not every mention of the Holocaust in the context of a current debate is, however, an inappropriate analogy with the Holocaust. As your statement explained, “Justice Kirby was not making factual analogies between these two situations at all… He was attempting to draw, in a measured and qualified way, moral lessons from the terrible events of the Holocaust and the Nazi era, not to liken other events to them”.

What Justice Kirby said on ABC radio on August 10 was that, “during the run up to the Second World War some Jewish people, though the situation was much more desperate and fraught, took part with the Nazis in the regulation of the Jewish community. Looking back on it, we can now see that that is something when you are being denigrated and treated unfairly and as a second class citizen, you shouldn’t necessarily go along with. This postal vote isn’t in that order but it’s the same principle”. As you point out, the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission was wrong to describe this as an analogy. It clearly isn’t. It was in our view a reasonable effort to draw lessons from the event in the lead up to the Holocaust, then to discuss one way those lessons might be applied today.

Justice Kirby’s remarks are best described not as Holocaust distortion but rather as an effort to examine the past with the benefit of hindsight and then apply that understanding to the present. It is not dissimilar to the work we have observed within the IHRA in relation to the Syrian refugee crisis which likewise draws on knowledge of the events of the aftermath of the Holocaust and seeks to apply that understanding to the situation today. We reject, and encourage others to reject, any attempt to deny or distort the historical record of the Holocaust but we believe all efforts to consider and learn from the past, particularly in relation to the Holocaust, to create a better future should be welcomed.

As we as a country seek to engage more in the international community of experts working in this space it is important that those presenting themselves as experts on the topic of Holocaust denial and distortion are working with up to date knowledge and in a sophisticated fashion. A failure to do reflects poorly not only on the individuals and organisations involved but on us as a nation.

Sue Hampel OAM

Pauline Rockman OAM

Dr Donna Frieze

Prof. Suzanne Rutland

Dr Steve Cooke

Dr Avril Alba

Dr Andre Oboler

The ADC declined to comment


One Response to “No need to apologise Mr Kirby”
  1. Michael Barnett says:

    A compelling response.

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