Op-Ed: Why is Amazon selling Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism?
Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites needn’t look further than Amazon to satisfy their search for titles containing these exact words, written by some of the most notorious bigots of recent generations. These publications clearly violate Amazon’s guidelines prohibiting the sale of products that “promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance,” and yet they are available for purchase at the click of a button — some through third parties, others through Amazon directly. A few titles are listed on Amazon Prime, so you needn’t even pay for shipping.
The anti-Semitic titles on Amazon are well-known and controversial works that have long been considered dangerous and inciting. These include “The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry,” by Arthur R. Butz, whose denial of the Holocaust over the last 40 years has been voraciously condemned; and “Did Six Million Really Die? The Truth At Last,” written by neo-fascist British National Front member Richard Verrall under the pseudonym Richard E. Harwood. (Historian Deborah Lipstadt exposed Verrall more than 20 years ago as an anti-Semitic apologist for the Nazi government’s persecution and oppression of German Jews during the 1930s.)
Amazon cannot be legally prohibited from selling Holocaust-denying material, but it can and should choose not to
The onus is on Internet giants to ensure that their platforms do not become — or remain — a breeding ground for hate speech and incitement. In recent months, companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft have pledged to vigilantly enforce their guidelines. Amazon should also step up.
My organization, the World Jewish Congress, has written to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on three separate occasions — October 2013, June 2016 and this week — requesting that Amazon remove hateful anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying content from its platform. We also asked Amazon to establish a clear system for flagging offensive material. We received no response, and not a single item we identified as problematic has been removed.
Aside from the fact that Holocaust denial crosses the line between free speech and incitement to hatred, there is a serious issue here of corporate moral responsibility.
It’s not that Amazon is incapable of or unwilling to eliminate offensive content. In 2015, it restricted the sale of Confederate flags and memorabilia. Last year, it removed door and dog mats emblazoned with the word Allah, following protests by British Muslims. And last month, it pulled an Indian flag doormat after India’s foreign minister lodged a protest and threatened to blacklist Amazon officials.
But consumers can buy a plethora of Holocaust-denying literature, swastika pendants and other Nazi memorabilia. While books are clearly different from doormats or flags, they still violate Amazon’s guidelines, not to mention common decency.
This is not a 1st Amendment problem. Amazon cannot be legally prohibited from selling Holocaust-denying material, but it can and should choose not to. Bookstores have long refused to carry certain items, with pornography being a prime example. Holocaust denial is no different, legally speaking, from hardcore pornography. Private authors have the right to publish their works, and Amazon, as a private company, has the right — and moral responsibility — to refuse to carry or promote any material that breaches its standards.
Amazon needs to prioritize the removal of all items that blatantly “promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance.” All Internet giants, including Amazon, ought to disavow any profit that may come from such material, and accept their responsibility in making the Internet — and by extension, the nondigital world — a safer place.
Robert R. Singer is the CEO and executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress.
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