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Diary changes agenda

Hats off to Bob Carr. Within days of publication, Diary of a Foreign Minister has changed the agenda at the Ade­laide Institute’s home page, an ­accomplishment that has eluded human rights lawyers for years.

Carr’s claims about the power of “the Lobby” and its puppets in the falafel faction of the parliamentary Labor Party is the kind of story that goes down well with the Fuhrer-fawning fringe.

No fewer than five stories about Carr had been posted by last night, shoving hardcore historical revisionism, like The Jewish Gas Chamber Hoax, on to the next screen alongside David ­Irving’s rants, an article questioning the efficacy of Zyklon B gas, and a report from Iran claiming that the Balfour Declaration was “a crime against humanity”.

If section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act were working as its advocates intended, this ­objectionable material would have been taken down years ago.

After all, it is almost 18 years since the Executive Council of Australian Jewry lodged a complaint to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission about what it claimed was the “malicious anti-Jewish propaganda” published by Fred­rick Toben.

The HREOC upheld the complaint lodged by the council’s ­Jeremy Jones that the publication was highly offensive to the Jewish community.

When Toben failed to comply with an order from the federal court to remove it and publish an apology, he was found guilty of contempt and sentenced to three months in jail.

Jones is a tireless, public-­spirited worker on behalf of the Jewish community and the wider cause of Israel, yet the protracted Toben saga has had disturbing consequences.

Toben’s notoriety has ensured years of publicity. He has become a martyr within a minority of the community who ­regard him as a serious historian. The attempt to shut him down has reinforced their belief in an internationally sanctioned conspiracy.

As Alan Dershowitz wrote on these pages this month, if we turn “those who express racist ideas into criminals, we give their bigoted voice a megaphone”.

It would be nice, therefore, if we could ignore this ignominious pretender in discussing the amendments to the act contemplated by Tony Abbott’s government. Yet we cannot, particularly since advocates of the status quo have reduced the whole debate to an argument about Andrew Bolt, when clearly it is not.

Bolt’s case is easily defended. The illiberal interpretation of the law that judge Mordecai Brom­berg adopted in his finding against Bolt must never be used again.

Toben is an altogether more ugly beast yet he, too, must be ­defended since the right to free speech applies just as much to him as it does to everyone else.

Judge Louis Brandeis’s landmark 1927 judgment in the case of Whitney v California remains pertinent: “If there be time to ­expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of ­education, the remedy to be ­applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

Holocaust denial undoubtedly is offensive, insulting and humili­ating yet in itself does not fall into the narrow category of things that can justifiably be suppressed. In Brandeis’s opinion, the law should confine itself to incitement, the “clear and present ­danger … that immediate serious violence was to be expected or was advocated”.

Among the more misleading claims made by opponents of change is that they will “open the door” to Holocaust denial. It was an argument put most recently by barrister Arthur Morris.

Yet, Morris would be well aware, Australia is not one of the 17 countries where Holocaust denial is implicitly or explicitly ­illegal. If he wants to argue that it should be, then let us have an honest debate, for Hansard makes clear parliamentarians never intended the vilification amendments to operate as a de facto ban on Holocaust denial when they were passed in 1994.

Indeed, the door is already well and truly open. Denialist argu­ments are prosecuted daily on the internet, proving the truth of Benedict de Spinoza’s 350-year-old dictum that “every man is by indefeasible natural right the master of his own thoughts”.

That there was little public outcry in 2009 when Toben was sentenced to jail is a measure of the natural opprobrium that falls upon those who seek to explain away history’s most heinous crime.

Yet some far-sighted liberal thinkers did speak out in defence of free speech, among them The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen and the British commentator Melanie Phillips.

They were right to do so, for when it comes to crimes against humanity, too much discussion is barely enough.

If the revisionists force us to examine yet again the banality of Hitler’s final solution, to rexamine, for example, the blueprints for the factories of mass slaughter built at Auschwitz in 1943, and imagine what might have been going on the heads of architects Walter Dejaco and Fritz Ertl, we are drawn irresistibly to Hannah Arendt’s conclusion: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be either good or evil.”

If Toben’s grotesque views oblige us to re-read the testimony of witnesses such as Primo Levi, then he is doing us a favour. Levi had the measure of these close-minded con men. He declared: “Those who deny Auschwitz would be ready to remake it.”

The attempt by Ron Merkel to link Bolt by association to Holocaust denial was perhaps the most grievous mistake he made as prosecutor in the case of Bolt v Eatock. “The Holocaust in the 1940s started with words and finished with violence,” he told the court. No, Mr Merkel. It is not speech but totalitarian suppres­sion that makes atrocities possible. The Holocaust started in sil­ence and continued in silence.

Nick Cater is a visiting fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.