Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Monday, December 11, 2006
Dozens of Holocaust deniers and revisionists from around the world are attending a two-day state-sponsored conference that is examining the claims of the Holocaust. The conference opened in Iran on Monday.
It has drawn fire from Israel, the West and Jewish groups but one source said the key would be how the world community responds to the conference.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki addressed the conference at its opening on Monday and said it was not intended to deny or confirm the Holocaust but to discuss it -- "to create an opportunity for thinkers who cannot express their views freely in Europe."
The Israeli government condemned what it called the "shameless initiative" of the Iranian government to convene the conference.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is seeking "to create legitimacy for his declared intention to destroy Israel and to spread his extremist doctrine, which contravene the values of the free world," said Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
This is not the first time that Iran has seized on the Holocaust, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.
Recently, the Islamic Republic held a contest of caricatures mocking the Holocaust.
Ahmadinejad, who inspired the conference, has called the massacre of six million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust a "myth" and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
"By denying or questioning the Holocaust -- the most extreme form of genocide to date -- he is challenging the essence of the notion of universal human rights, which was developed by the international community after and because of the [Holocaust]," Regev said.
His calls for Israel's destruction - Iran is a member state of the United Nations -- should be seen as threatening another genocide and endangering civilization and they demand universal rejection, he said.
Dr. Robert Rozett, director of libraries at Yad Vashem, Israel's primary Holocaust memorial and education center, said the conference is not a farce but described it as the "extreme politicization of history."
It is significant that a government on the face of the earth is calling into question a fact of history that is important to the world and important to the Jewish people, said Rozett in a telephone interview. It is the first time that a government has ever sponsored a conference to deny or question the Holocaust, he said.
Organized by the Institute for Political and International Studies at the Iranian Foreign Ministry, the conference -- entitled "Review of the Holocaust: a Global Vision" -- has drawn 67 participants from some 30 countries.
But it doesn't just question the Holocaust, it distorts everything right up to the creation of the State of Israel, Rozett said. According to Iranian logic, if there were no Holocaust, then the State of Israel would be illegitimate. And if something did happen to the Jews, then they ask why the Palestinians have to pay for it, Rozett added.
The world and particularly Muslim leaders should stand up against this conference, he said.
A lot will depend on how the world responds to this conference, said Dr. Ephraim Zuroff, director of the Jerusalem Simon Wiesenthal Center.
It's not a question of how Israel responds, but how the countries that are trading with Iran respond.
Zuroff noted that United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan condemned the conference. Germany called in Iran's ambassador to give him a reprimand but it would say a lot more if Germany would cut off economic ties, Zuroff said in a telephone interview.
"Germany should be the first country to scream bloody murder," he said. This is the problem, he said. No one is going to believe what comes out of the conference, he said. "The problem is that is it paving the way to further genocides."
Among those attending the conference are white supremacist and former Klu Klux Klan member David Duke, who is scheduled to give a paper; French professor Robert Faurisson, who denies that gas chambers were used to kill Jews; and Fredrick Toeben, an Australian who denies the scale of the Holocaust.
Rabbis from the ultra-Orthodox fringe sect Netura Karte also attended the conference and accused the "Zionists" of using the Holocaust to perpetrate evils against the Palestinian people.
Members of the Netura Karte sect do not believe there should be a Jewish state and therefore say that the State of Israel is illegitimate. They are often invited to anti-Israel and anti-Semitic events to add Jewish backing to anti-Israel causes.
One man who was not allowed to attend the conference was Khaled Kasab Mahameed. Mahameed is an Israeli Arab and lawyer who operates a small Holocaust museum out of his office in the northern Israeli Arab city of Nazareth to educate Arabs about the Holocaust.
Mahameed was invited to attend the Iranian conference but was not given an Iranian visa because Israeli passport holders are not allowed inside Iran, Mahameed said in a telephone interview.
Mahameed said he would have told the conference that by denying the Holocaust they actually are shooting themselves in the foot -- and the Palestinians in the heart -- because the Holocaust and its repercussions have caused the Palestinians to suffer.
Mahameed's interest in the Holocaust is a mixed blessing, said Zuroff. On the one hand he is doing a good thing by sharing Holocaust information with Arabs, but it's problematic that he directly links the Holocaust to the plight of the Palestinian people, he said.
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