'Sorry' won't rewrite the wrongs

January 26, 2001

A first class for a 'flawed' thesis on Holocaust revisionism has angered the Jewish community.

The New Zealand Jewish community has signalled disappointment and anger at the failure of the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, to revoke a masters degree awarded in 1993 for a thesis that questioned the existence of the Holocaust.

The Jewish Council said the thesis, which questioned whether there was an official Nazi policy to exterminate the Jews and whether gas chambers existed, caused great distress to the New Zealand Jewish community and to Holocaust survivors in particular.

Last April, when an embargo on the thesis had been lifted, the council called on the university to revoke the degree because of what it regarded as the thesis's bad scholarship. The university set up an independent working party to look into the awarding of an MA to Joel Hayward, based on the 360-page thesis titled The Fate of Jews in German Hands: An Historical Inquiry into the Development and Significance of Holocaust Revisionism .

The working party's report, made public late last year, found that the thesis was seriously flawed and that it demonstrated faulty research and lack of judgement. They concluded that it did not deserve the first-class honours it was awarded. The report questioned the quality of the supervision and the practice of appointing the supervisor as an internal examiner. It also said that the thesis should have been revised and resubmitted.

However, based on legal opinion, the report said that the degree could not be downgraded or revoked because there was no evidence of dishonest practice in the use of research.

The university adopted the report's recommendations and has apologised unreservedly to the Jewish Council and the Jewish community.

Daryl Le Grew, vice-chancellor of the university, said: "The university agrees it should not have accepted the thesis towards an MA without far more scrutiny... Had the thesis been put forward today, it would have been subjected to improved departmental and university processes."

But Professor Le Grew added that because the thesis was not found to be dishonest, "neither the thesis nor the degree can be amended, removed, downgraded or altered".

Instead, the university has agreed that the working party report would be bound with the thesis - still available to researchers - so that the two documents are read in tandem.

That has failed to satisfy the New Zealand Jewish Council. Its president, David Zwartz, said that while he accepted the apology, the university had not gone far enough. The conclusions of the thesis denied historical truth.

"As it stands, the thesis still has its first-class MA honours qualification attached to it. We don't find that satisfactory after what the working party said about the quality of the thesis and the quality of the supervision. We think the university has not done the right thing by allowing the degree to stand," he said.

He added that there was still a lot of anger towards the university among members of the Jewish community, particularly Holocaust survivors.

Dr Hayward - who has since completed a PhD from Canterbury on a different topic and now lectures in defence and strategic studies at Massey University - has admitted that his research was inadequate and his conclusions wrong. He has apologised to the Jewish community.

In December 1999, he asked the university to withdraw the thesis from the library, but the university declined. However, at the university's invitation, he wrote an addendum, now attached to the thesis, in which he acknowledges errors of fact and interpretation.

"My thesis represents an honest attempt on my part to make sense of events I wanted to understand better. Yet I now regret working on such a complex topic without sufficient knowledge and preparation, and hope this brief addendum will prevent my work causing distress to the Jewish community here in New Zealand and elsewhere, or being misused by individuals or groups with malevolent motives," he concludes in the addendum.

Professor Le Grew said the university did not support Holocaust revisionism and did not harbour anti-Semitic feeling - a point supported by the report.

As recommended by the report, the university was exploring with the Jewish Council ways in which it could increase Holocaust awareness.

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