March 24, 2001
Don't tolerate hate
After getting caught seemingly unawares by reports that the California chapter of an international hate group, the so-called "Institute for Historical Review," plans to hold a conference of Holocaust deniers here in Lebanon, the Hariri government has recovered nicely by declaring that no such event will be allowed to take place. Seeing as no decent country on the face of the Earth would open its arms to these loathsome pseudo-historians, few moves could place this country in a poorer light than to host their detestable gathering.
The very real challenges posed to the Arab world by the Jewish state demand far too much attention to let a cabal of hate-mongers distract the authorities in Lebanon or elsewhere in the region with their rantings about a fact of history. Arguments about whether the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews or "only" 5 million are legitimate but essentially irrelevant in the big picture because even the lower figure more than suffices to constitute genocide. Those who deny that the Holocaust took place at all are worthy of nothing but universal scorn.
Unfortunately, it has long been fashionable in certain Arab circles to deny or downplay the horrific crimes committed against Jews during World War II. This misguided tendency serves only to undermine the legitimate grievances that Arabs and their governments have against Israel by eroding Arab credibility. In fact, it also belittles crimes committed against Arabs by Israelis by failing to recognize the supreme irony in seeing atrocities carried out by the very people who were victimized by Hitler's barbarity.
The sufferings of Arabs in the here and now cannot be alleviated by questioning that of Jews in the 1930s and 1940s. In addition, attempting to create doubts about Hitler's shocking crimes requires that one sink to the level of those Israelis who deny wrongdoing on their country's part since 1948. As even many Israelis have learned, two wrongs do not make a right, especially when the victim of the second had no role in the first. Arabs must accept that a third wrong will do nothing to change this equation.
Israelis and Arabs are not children in a schoolyard who can be excused for uttering hurtful words to one another but two proud peoples, separate but related, who one way or another must learn to co-exist. So long as the Jewish state refuses to accept its misdeeds and make some effort to redress them, Arabs will have good cause to resent its presence. But this should never be used as an excuse to deny that which we know to be true. Instead, we should let the Israelis be the ones who have to defend untenable historical and political positions by refusing to let our misfortunes blind us to theirs.
Lebanon has never hesitated to host events that qualify as "anti-Israeli," and with good reason: The troublesome neighbor to the south has stirred up decades of trouble for this country and its allies in the region. From illegal settlement activities on occupied land and the "Judaization" of Jerusalem to the occupation of south Lebanon and torturing prisoners of war whom it refuses to acknowledge as such, Israel offers a plethora of issues which can and should be debated and publicized by legitimate scholars and respectable activists.
If some group -- but not the contemptible "Institute for Historical Review" -- wants to stage a conference in Lebanon that draws attention to the Qana massacre, for instance, or to various other violations of international law committed by the Israeli government, they should be enthusiastically welcomed. The propaganda war against the Jewish state has always been an uphill struggle, so the Arab world needs all the help it can get -- but only from reputable sources, a requirement that Holocaust deniers will not meet in this or any other era. As one former PLO official has put it, "with friends like that, we don't enemies."
The Daily Star