LONDON (JTA) — British Home Secretary Michael Howard has come under fire from Jewish leaders for declining to join his European Union counterparts in declaring Holocaust denial a criminal offense in each of their countries.
Howard's refusal last week at a E.U. meeting in Brussels to seek a British law against Holocaust denial brought a strong response from the Jewish Board of Deputies, which said in a statement that it "deeply regretted" his decision.
Howard cited British freedom-of-speech laws during the Brussels meeting, where other E.U. countries said they feared that Holocaust-deniers would use countries like England as a base for spreading hate literature to E.U. states that have banned such activities.
To counter those fears, Howard agreed to a compromise E.U. resolution that each of the organization's 15 member states would seize racist literature published with the clear intention of inciting racial hatred.
The Board of Deputies, which represents Britain's 300,000 Jews, said in its statement that laws criminalizing Holocaust denial were already on the books in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and Lithuania.
The Hungarian government was considering such legislation and the Dutch courts had also ruled against Holocaust denial, the statement added.
"It is sad that Britain is isolated in this way," said board president Eldred Tabachnik, who also serves as president of the European Jewish Congress.
Holocaust denial, he added, was a matter of grave concern "not only for Jews and other victims of Nazism, but for all democratic forces determined that neo-Nazi ideology should not be allowed to acquire political legitimacy in Europe."