Social media is the “number one factor” in the rise of anti-semitism and Irish children are not immune to the impact it is having on young people, a Holocaust awareness campaigner has said.
Oliver Sears, founder of Holocaust Awareness Ireland, said the growth of anti-refugee and far-right activity in Ireland was something that must be “closely monitored”.
He condemned the “othering” and “blaming” of refugees at the protests, pointing out that this was what happened to Jewish people under the Nazi regime.
His comments come on the eve of International Holocaust Memorial Day and the publication of a survey in the Netherlands which indicated that almost a quarter of adults under the age of 40 believed the Holocaust was a myth or that the number of Jews killed was greatly exaggerated.
Mr Sears, the son of a Holocaust survivor, said the findings of the survey displayed a “shocking ignorance” of the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of six million Jewish men, women and children.
“Education has got to be at fault,” he said. “How we are teaching students is obviously not satisfactory, if such a large proportion of people believe an event as well documented as the Holocaust, and is still in living memory, is a myth. It’s deeply alarming.”
Mr Sears said social media was the “largest single problem” as it was where many people got their information.
“Kids don’t read newspapers, they don’t watch TV news programmes," he said, "they get their news from social media, and social media is the number one factor in the rise in anti-semitism. It is the conduit.”
He said there was no reason to believe Irish children were “immune” to this.
“Anywhere where social media is freely available is going to have this problem," he said. "There are no clear surveys giving any clear stats as to what Irish children know about the Holocaust. It’s part of my job and the HAI, to bring awareness to the society I live in.”
He said he is disturbed by the rise in anti-refugee protests and the involvement of far-right elements in them.
We were delighted to welcome @PJohnstonFCDO to @dublincastleopw today as he viewed the current exhibition 'The Objects of Love' ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27th.#Holocaust #NeverForget #HMD2023 @BritEmbDublin @dfatirl @Holocaust_Irl @HMD_UK pic.twitter.com/XM3QHGE9qh— Office of Public Works (@opwireland) January 24, 2023
“It’s something that has to be closely monitored," he said. "Ireland is not immune to this and Putin factored this in. He knew there would be displacement, it’s part of his strategy to pressure European countries not to come to Ukraine’s aid.”
However, he said that given Europe has a population of 505 million, the number of people involved in such protests was relatively small. Protests this week included one in Finglas – involving mainly men, many of them masked – on Tuesday and another in Citywest on Wednesday. Gardaí reported no incidents at either event.
He said he is “deeply uneasy” by rhetoric at anti-refugee marches, that so-called “genuine refugees” like Ukrainian women and children were welcome, but “illegal refugees” such as men, and those from Georgia and Albania, were not.
“It’s othering, judging human beings on the basis of where they are from," he said. "I know what that looks like, I know what that special treatment looks like.”
He also condemned rhetoric at the protests claiming male refugees posed a threat to local women and children.
- Holocaust Memorial Day 2023 takes place this Sunday at 6pm at the Mansion House. Mr Sears family exhibition The Objects of Love continues in Dublin Castle until this weekend before travelling to New York.