"Supposedly accepted historical fact." That is how Pennsylvania state legislative candidate Mark Moffa (D.) referred to the Holocaust in a 1999 editorial in his college newspaper defending his decision to publish an ad from one of the country’s leading purveyors of Holocaust denial propaganda.
Moffa, who is now running for Pennsylvania’s 142nd district House seat, published an ad from the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust in the March 15, 1999, edition of Franklin & Marshall College’s newspaper. In the ad, committee founder Bradley Smith offered the Anti-Defamation League $250,000 to debate whether Nazis used gas chambers during the Holocaust and murdered millions of Jews, and whether Anne Frank’s diary was authentic. The ad drew an angry response on campus, with one group of students launching an alternative campus newspaper in protest. Moffa doubled down on his decision in an editorial entitled "Damned If I Do," claiming that rejecting the ad would be "censorship."
The Moffa campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Moffa’s campus controversy could hinder Democrats’ efforts to flip Pennsylvania’s state legislature in November. Democrats believe they can gain control of the legislature for the first time since 2011 following a favorable round of redistricting. Moffa, who runs a small media publishing company, has received endorsements from national groups including Planned Parenthood and Human Rights Campaign as he runs largely on the abortion issue against Republican Joe Hogan.
The Franklin & Marshall ad was part of the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust’s aggressive campaign in the 1990s to plant anti-Semitic propaganda in campus newspapers across the country. The Anti-Defamation League said Smith used the ad campaign to disseminate Holocaust denialism and to "garner the free publicity" from the controversy that often followed campus debates on whether to publish the ads. Smith also sought to "entice young people onto his website" for the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust. The site’s address was featured prominently in the Franklin & Marshall ad Moffa published.
Smith’s ad was particularly controversial at Franklin & Marshall because it appeared just days after anti-Semitic graffiti was found on campus and as the school hosted a Holocaust remembrance event. A group of students said in a letter to the editor that the ad showed a "lack of judgment" and a "lack of respect for those connected to the Holocaust."
One classmate suggested that Moffa, who neither condemned nor endorsed the contents of the ad, engaged in Holocaust denialism himself by referring to the atrocities as "supposedly accepted historical fact."
"Clearly, Moffa has ignored the countless volumes of literature and documentaries on the event, ranging from the brutality in the concentration camps and Hitler's openly expressed goal to eliminate all Jews," wrote Franklin & Marshall student Mike Berg.
Moffa defended his decision in an editorial citing First Amendment protections for free speech. "I decided to print the ad because the material in the ad is covered under free speech laws," he wrote.
While some campus papers published the ads, Harvard University’s newspaper and others rejected calls to publish Holocaust revisionism and neo-Nazi propaganda. The Harvard Crimson declined to run the ad in 1991, in an editorial entitled "No Obligation to Publish Lies." The editorial called Smith’s ads "vicious propaganda based on utter bullshit that has been discredited time and time again by legitimate scholars of diverse ideological persuasions."