Iran Holocaust Conference Draws Ire

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

New York Times

December 11, 2006

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran on Monday hosted a conference gathering prominent Holocaust deniers that it said would examine whether the World War II genocide of Jews took place, drawing condemnation from Israel and Germany.

The conference was initiated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an apparent attempt to burnish his status at home and abroad as a tough opponent of Israel. The hard-liner president has described the Holocaust as a ''myth'' and called for Israel to be wiped off the map.

Organizers touted the conference as a scholarly gathering aimed at discussing the Holocaust away from Western taboos, but the 67 participants from 30 countries were predominantly Holocaust deniers. They included David Duke -- the former Louisiana state representative and Ku Klux Klan leader -- and France's Robert Faurisson and Australian Frederick Toben, who was jailed in Germany in 1999 for questioning the Holocaust.

Also at the conference were two rabbis and four other members of the group Jews United Against Zionism, who were dressed in the traditional long black coats and black hats of ultra-Orthodox Jews. Jews United Against Zionism, which says the creation of the state of Israel violated Jewish law, does not deny the Holocaust occurred but argues that it should not have been a reason for the founding of Israel.

In Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called on the world to protest the conference, terming it ''a sick phenomenon.''

German Parliament President Norbert Lammert protested the conference in a letter to Ahmadinejad.

''I condemn any attempt to offer anti-Semitic propaganda a public forum under the pretext of scientific freedom and objectivity,'' Lammert wrote.

The two-day conference was organized by the Iranian Foreign Ministry's Institute for Political and International Studies.

''This conference seeks neither to deny nor prove the Holocaust,'' the institute's chief Rasoul Mousavi said in an opening speech. ''It is just to provide an appropriate scientific atmosphere for scholars to offer their opinions in freedom about a historical issue.''

In Germany, Austria and France, it is illegal to deny the Holocaust.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki dismissed the foreign criticism as ''predictable,'' telling conference delegates there was ''no logical reason for opposing this conference.''

''The objective for organizing this conference is to create an atmosphere to raise various opinions about a historical issue,'' Mottaki said.

''If the official version of the Holocaust is thrown into doubt, then the identity and nature of Israel will be thrown into doubt. And if, during this review, it is proved that the Holocaust was a historical reality, then what is the reason for the Muslim people of the region and the Palestinians having to pay the cost of the Nazis' crimes?'' Mottaki said.

Ahmadinejad has said that the killing of 6 million Jews by the Nazi German regime during World War II was a ''myth'' and ''exaggerated.'' He has also repeatedly questioned why the Holocaust has been used to justify the creation of Israel at the cost of Palestinian lands -- a view popular among Iranian hard-liners.

Israel's official Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, condemned the Tehran conference as an attempt to ''paint (an) extremist agenda with a scholarly brush.''

The leading Israeli novelist and peace activist, Amos Oz, also denounced the meeting.

''I think the conference in Iran is a sick joke, and I hope it will be received with revulsion and disgust everywhere in the world,'' Oz said.

The gathering coincided with an independently convened academic conference on the Holocaust in Berlin, Germany, where historians affirmed the accuracy of the Nazi genocide data and questioned the motives of those behind the Tehran forum.

The number of Holocaust deaths ''is not a figment of the imagination. This comes from the Germans themselves, and therefore any denial of these figures is absolutely senseless,'' historian Raul Hilberg, author of ''The Destruction of the European Jews,'' told the Berlin conference.

Wolfgang Benz, head of the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism at Berlin's Technical University, said people who deny the Holocaust ''know perfectly well what happened.''

''They want to use what happened -- through denying it -- to effect something else, to articulate the crude old anti-Semitism against Israel,'' he said.

Iran has spent months preparing for the conference, even publicizing it during the September visit to Tehran of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who contradicted his hosts by saying the Holocaust was a historical fact and that an exhibition of anti-Holocaust cartoons, then on display in the city, promoted hatred.