Daily Star
March 23, 2001

Cabinet insists racist meeting won’t happen

Conference of Holocaust deniers is 'just a rumor'

Nafez Kawas
Daily Star correspondent

Reports that a conference of "Holocaust deniers" is scheduled to take place in Beirut are completely unfounded and are part of a "disinformation campaign" against Lebanon, the government claimed on Thursday.

Information Minister Ghazi Aridi told reporters that Thursday’s Cabinet meeting, held under the auspices of President Emile Lahoud, discussed the "fabricated and suspect uproar" regarding the alleged conference.

"The government established that no official or unofficial quarter has applied to convene such a conference," he said. "Reports published over the past few days via the internet are completely unfounded and are part of a political and diplomatic disinformation campaign against Lebanon."

He warned against the "gravity" of the campaign and said people should "not heed rumors or be influenced by leaks."

Right-wing groups in the U.S. and Europe are said to be behind the conference. One of the organizers, the California-based Institute for Historical Review, described the event as a "landmark" reflecting "cooperation between revisionists in the West and Muslim countries."

The group said the meet’s importance was evident from "anxious denunciations" by Jewish organizations and a "steady stream of guest registrations."

Vérité et Justice, or Truth and Justice, a Swiss-based group, is listed as the co-organizer of the meeting. Its head, Jürgen Graf, is currently in Iran after a Swiss court sentenced him in 1998 to 15 months in prison for "Holocaust denial," according to the Institute for Historical Review.

Some Arabs have said that if the meeting were held in Lebanon, it would only bring bad publicity. Fourteen Arab intellectuals, including Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and others from Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco and Syria, have signed a letter calling for the event to be canceled. In excerpts of a letter published in the local press, they said they were "outraged by this anti-Semitic undertaking."

Hizbullah officials said they were unaware of the circumstances of the conference and were not involved with it.

Meanwhile, decisions taken by the Cabinet included forming a special committee to follow up de-mining in the South after the United Arab Emirates expressed willingness to finance the operation.

The government also decided to discuss and approve at its next session a report drawn up by Interior Minister Elias Murr on the issue of quarries. Sources said the government would decide to close down the quarries.

Aridi was vague when asked whether security measures similar to those taken on March 14 against demonstrators supporting former army commander Michel Aoun would be in force Tuesday on the return of Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir.

"It is the duty of security forces to ensure stability in the country, but the patriarch’s return should not necessarily entail similar action" he said. "What is important is that the matter should not carry political ends that don’t serve anybody, including the patriarch, who cares about security, stability and peace," he said.