March 23, 2001

Lebanon Bans Holocaust Denial Conference

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon has banned a conference intended as a platform to deny the Holocaust and which was to have opened in Beirut this month, the prime minister said on Friday.

Lebanon's decision follows appeals by Jewish organizations and Arab intellectuals to stop the planned conference, whose organizer was once sentenced to jail for publicly denying that the Nazis murdered six million Jews during World War Two.

"Lebanon has more important things to do than holding conferences that hurt its international standing and smear its name," Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri said.

The World Jewish Congress had called for the conference to be stopped and accused Iran of funding it. The Paris-based European Jewish Congress had also asked Lebanon to impose a ban.

However, a California-based organization helping to stage the planned March 31-April 3 "Revisionism and Zionism" conference appeared still to be preparing for it.

The Institute for Historical Review (IHR) said it was helping the Swiss group Truth and Justice stage the conference. The Swiss group's leader and Beirut conference organizer, Juergen Graf, has repeatedly denied the Holocaust.

"The meeting reflects and will further strengthen growing cooperation between revisionists in the West and in Muslim countries," the IHR said on its Web site.

It said Graf, sentenced to 15 months jail in 1998 for violating Swiss anti-racism laws but who has since fled Switzerland, had gone to Tehran as a guest of Iranian scholars.

Lebanese officials said they had no knowledge of the planned conference in Beirut, adding that no application had been made for permission to hold it.

Attempts to locate the proposed venue by journalists and diplomats failed.

A spokesman for Hizbollah, the Iranian-backed guerrilla group, told Reuters on Friday his party "did not receive any invitation so far" to take part in the conference.

The Syrian poet Adonis and Palestinian writer Edward Said were among signatories of a letter sent to the Lebanese government urging Arabs to condemn the conference.