March 22, 2001
Lebanon Will Not Allow Holocaust Revisionist Meeting
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) - Lebanon's government said on Thursday that it would not allow a gathering of Holocaust revisionists in Beirut planned for later this month.
The move won the praise of Jewish groups, which had called the conference organized by groups that say accounts of Holocaust atrocities are exaggerated "a gathering of hate."
"This conference will not be held in Beirut," Prime Minister Rafik Hariri told The Associated Press, several hours after a Cabinet meeting that discussed the issue.
In the United States, the Simon Wiesenthal Center praised Lebanon's decision.
"It is an extraordinary development and I think it is very, very positive. It's one of the few bright spots to try to create an environment of moderation," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, an associate dean of the center.
But one of the organizers, the Institute for Historical Review of Newport Beach, Calif., accused Lebanon of giving in to pressure from Jewish groups.
"I regard this as outrageous," institute director Mark Weber said, charging it was hypocritical to support free speech and ban a conference that would have been legal in other countries.
Organizers had not revealed the exact location of the March 31-April 3 conference, citing security concerns.
Extremist groups, such as the conference organizers, question the historical record that 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War II.
Jewish groups and scholars accuse them of distorting history and anti-Semitism.
The conference's co-organizer was Swiss-based Vérité et Justice. Its head, Jürgen Graf, is currently in Iran after a Swiss court sentenced him in 1998 to 15 months in jail for "Holocaust denial," according to the Institute for Historical Review.
Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi told reporters on Thursday that no group had applied for a permit to hold such a conference. He described reports about the conference as part of "a political, diplomatic and media campaign against Lebanon."
Fourteen Arab intellectuals, including prominent Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, had signed a letter calling for "this anti-Semitic undertaking" to be canceled.
The organizers may have been counting on finding sympathy among Arabs often at odds with Israel and Jews. Anti-Semitic writing, some of it denying the Holocaust or accusing Israel of imposing a new Holocaust on the Palestinians, has appeared in Arab media.
Arab anger has increased following the collapse of the Middle East peace process and amid Palestinian-Israeli violence that has killed more than 430 people, 355 of them Palestinians, in the past six months.
Fathi Kleib, a spokesman for the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine guerrilla group, said he had no opinion on holding the conference in Lebanon, but that "reviewing and rereading history is beneficial in all cases."
Kleib said Israel has concentrated on the Holocaust in "an exaggerated way" while it denied the Palestinians their rights.
But some Arabs said that such a meeting in Lebanon would only bring bad publicity.
The widely read pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat said in an editorial last week that the meeting's "damage to Lebanon is guaranteed."
Lebanon is keen on attracting foreign investment and tourists to shore up an ailing economy weakened by debt and budget deficit after a 15-year civil war.