March 24, 2001
PM rules out holding of hate conference
'Lebanon has more important things to do' than play host to controversial meet
Daily Star staff
Prime Minister Rafik Hariri said Friday that the controversial Holocaust Revisionist Conference will not be held in Lebanon.
"Lebanon has more important things to do than holding conferences that hurt its international standing and smear its name," Hariri said. "We're looking for the future. We're looking to establish a better climate."
For weeks, the decision of American and Swiss organizers to hold the four-day conference in Beirut, the first of its kind in an Arab capital, has raised many eyebrows in the international media and among Jewish lobby groups, Arab intellectuals, and the Lebanese authorities.
Information Minister Ghazi Aridi told The Daily Star that he had no knowledge that the conference was going to be held because the organizers, the Swiss-based Vérité et Justice, or Truth and Justice, and the California-based Institute for Historical Review, never applied for permission.
Aridi said that in order for foreigners to hold conferences in Lebanon, organizers are obliged to explain who they are, the reasons for holding the conference, the timing and the goals involved.
Mark Weber, the director of the Institute for Historical Review, said the ban was "an outrageous assault against freedom of speech and expression."
He added that while Vérité et Justice is taking the reins in organizing the conference, he was unaware that a permit was necessary. Vérité et Justice could not be reached Friday.
Weber told The Daily Star in a telephone interview that he considered as correct reports that the US State Department, by way of Ambassador David Satterfield, threatened to cut aid and "change it's attitude toward Lebanon" if the conference was held.
The US Embassy declined to comment, but Aridi said there had been no contact with the embassy on the issue.
Weber, who has held Holocaust revisionist conferences in the United States, claimed the Lebanese authorities would not admit that the United States applied pressure on them because "they're embarrassed that they're being bullied."
Little information was known about the conference, which was scheduled to be held from March 31 to April 3. Participants would only be told the location of the conference by contacting a number given to them upon arrival at Beirut International Airport.
They also needed to present someone who could "vouch for their good intentions," and journalists had to pass heavy screening.
Weber said he has not been able to reach the main organizer of the event, Jürgen Graf, to find out whether the conference will be pursued. Graf was convicted of with "Holocaust denial" in Switzerland where it is illegal to question the Holocaust and sought refuge in Tehran.
"The fact that there's been so much commotion surrounding this conference attests to the fact that there's a campaign against Lebanon," Aridi told The Daily Star.
"The campaigners are calling it a crime against humanity and so (the campaigners) are against Lebanon. It's a clear Israeli ploy to ruin the country's reputation."
However, Weber denied insinuations that the conference was a plot against Lebanon.
"It's absurd to claim that this is part of a big hoax to embarrass Lebanon," he said. "Nobody wants to embarrass Lebanon. We've put enormous effort into this."
Weber, who had described the conference as a "landmark" event because of the "cooperation between revisionists in the West and Muslim countries," said he did not know what local groups had been contacted.
Hizbullah denied reports that it is involved.
"We don't know anything about the conference and its organizers, but would completely support it if it were to reveal the truth of the Holocaust and Zionist claims," said Mohammed Raad, a Nabatieh MP and head of the Hizbullah parliamentary bloc.
He also said he did not know who in the country might be cooperating in its organization.
Raad said he hoped that the government's decision to ban the conference was not due to US interference.
"Lebanese authorities should not fear an effort that serves history," he said.
The institute claimed on its website that it does not specifically deny that the Holocaust occurred, but that it "calls into question aspects of the orthodox Holocaust extermination story."
"We revisionists are often accused of ... 'historical distortion' ... (But) we are dedicated, not to 'rewriting' the past, but simply promoting history that is written and presented in accordance with facts and sound perspective," Weber said in his keynote address at a revisionist conference held in California last year.
There have been mixed reactions in both Arab and Israeli communities to the conference.
The Simon Wisenthal Center called the Lebanese decision "an extraordinary development" and "one of the few bright spots to try and create an environment of moderation."
In addition, 14 Arab intellectuals, including prominent Palestinian-American academic Edward Said, and poets Mahmoud Darwish and Adonis, previously signed a statement calling "upon relevant authorities in Lebanon to forbid this unacceptable demonstration" of anti-Semitism.
However, Israeli journalist Israel Shamir was more critical of those opposing the conference.
He said that one of the most prominent renouncers of the conference, the Zionist Organization of America, is responsible for a campaign denying the massacre of Palestinians in Deir Yassin in 1948, despite eyewitness accounts of survivors, the Red Cross, the British police and Jewish scouts.
"By their flawed logic, if the Israelis are telling a tall tale about what happened in 1948, perhaps the Jewish memories of the Holocaust are also flawed," he wrote in an article last week.