Judaism has no toleration for aberrant language. The Hebrew term for it is nibul peh, and most translate it is profane language. For most, including Russian president Vladimir Putin, that means that there are certain terms that cannot be used in proper society. Under his leadership, movies, printed materials and broadcasts can never use four terms that almost all cultured society recognizes as beyond the pale. And as much as one might presume that Putin is attempting to garner the support of conservative elements around the globe, his ploy to make use of foul language a criminal act subject to severe fines and imprisonment, no one seems to be falling for his feeble attempt. Conservative and liberal Americans are united in their admiration of freedom of speech of freedom of the press. We may cringe at the unnecessary use of the “f bomb”, but to make it illegal is over the top.
Yet as much as one may focus on scatological language when one considers nibul peh, a far worse example gained immediate outrage this week in the Rialto school district in California. That school district required 2000 8th graders to write an essay on Holocaust denial. The text of that assignment follows:
When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence. For example, some people claim the Holocaust is not an actual event, but instead is propaganda took that was used for political and monetary gain. You will read and discuss multiple, credible articles on this issue, and write an argumentative essay, based upon cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you believe this was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth. Remember to address counterclaims (rebuttals) to your stated claim.
Are 8th graders sophisticated enough to discriminate among sources and know which are based on fact and which are pure anti-Semitic skepticism?
Professor Debbie Lipstadt, perhaps America’s greatest scholar of the Holocaust, has successfully taken deniers to court in the past, and shows that their motivation was not truth at all. It was a misled attempt to cause increasing contempt against Israel and the Jewish people.
Lipstadt reacted to the Rialto assignment in a column that appeared this morning in the online Tablet magazine.
She notes that among the sources the school district provided were articles from Wikipedia, Fox, History Channel and Jewish texts. But also provided were references to writings of Fred Leuchter, a leading denier, and others of his ilk. Among Leuchter’s views, Jews created the Holocaust to take the world for trillions. He also alleges that the Anne Frank diary is a forgery.
When students are encouraged to read Leuchter without a thorough grounding in history, what can be the district’s motivation? Is it as Ahmadinijad’s past denials, or those of anti-Semites over the past decades? In denying the mass murder of six millions Jews, the aspect of the Holocaust most relevant to the Jewish community, do deniers also seek to forget the five million other victims who were killed because of their sexual orientation, their physical disabilities, their political affiliations, their mental illness or their descent from Romani ancestors?
Some can understand the former Iranian president. He could not accept a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. He publicly and repeatedly called for the Jewish Homeland’s annihilation, and spoke openly about killing its people.
Could the Rialto school district be falling into the same pernicious trap? Rightly, in the many postings and open letters to the district, not one writer has addressed concerns to the district’s interim superintendent, Mohammad Z. Islam. Perhaps no one wants to suggest that Rialto is to a degree being controlled by an Islamist mindset. While it may be politically incorrect, should we not wonder that the district of a Moslem educator required this vicious assignment?
The world community cannot rest easy when anti-Semitism is allowed to rear its ugly head. It cannot be silent when professional educators abuse their authority and their students with not so subtle acts of propaganda masquerading as lessons and assignments. This writer, one generation removed from the Holocaust, the son of an escapee from the Anschluss in Austria, and the nephew of an Auschwitz slave laborer, can never be convinced that the Holocaust was anything but historical fact.
To even consider any alternative to reality as possibility, especially with the miles of testimony to the Holocaust recorded not only by survivors in later times, but by the Nazis themselves when the process was active, is dangerous.
Lipstadt cited George Santayana, but even that is too kind. This is not a matter of failing to know history, it is to actively commit an act of perjury in the court of human decency, and that is nibul peh.