Washington Post

March 26, 2001

Jews, Arabs Join To Decry Holocaust Deniers

Beirut Bans Holocaust Revision Session

By Howard Schneider
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, March 26, 2001; Page A20

CAIRO, March 25 -- The Lebanese government has canceled a conference that Holocaust revisionists planned to hold in Beirut, following an outcry from unlikely allies, including the World Jewish Congress and Arab intellectuals and leaders.

The scheduled March 31 meeting on Revisionism and Zionism was being organized by the U.S.-based Institute for Historical Review, and the Swiss group Vérité et Justice, whose director was sentenced to 15 months in prison in 1998 under Swiss laws forbidding denial of the Holocaust.

Responding to local and international opposition, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri announced Friday that the government would not allow the conference to take place. Hariri told the Daily Star newspaper that granting the group an Arab venue to air its views at a time of Middle East tension would hurt Lebanon's efforts to rebuild its government and improve the economy after a 15-year civil war and 22-year Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.

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

Conference organizers criticized the decision as an affront to freedom of speech and alleged it was engineered by the United States and the international Zionist movement to suppress their belief that the killing in Nazi Germany of 6 million Jews during World War II has either been greatly exaggerated or fabricated altogether to extort money and political support for Holocaust victims.

Groups like the Institute for Historical Review have organized similar conferences in the United States. Their views are censored in some European countries under postwar laws prohibiting efforts to play down the Nazis' systematic slaughter. The group's effort to bring its debate to the Arab and Muslim world backfired, creating a rare moment when world Jewish leaders, Arab academics, and the Israeli and Arab media saw eye to eye on an issue.

"Arab intellectuals are outraged by this anti-Semitic undertaking," wrote a group of 14 Arab academics and artists, including figures such as the Lebanese poet who goes by the name Adonis, and Palestinian intellectual Edward Said. Holding the meeting in an Arab country at a time when the Palestinians are engaged in daily violence with the Israelis, they said, would weaken legitimate Arab grievances against the Jewish state by associating them with the anti-Holocaust fringe.

Their viewpoint was echoed by Israel's Haaretz newspaper and by the prominent London-based Arabic daily Al Hayat, which editorialized that the conference "disgraces Lebanon."

The 14 academics and intellectuals "are taking a stand which bolsters intellectual integrity and political sense in the Middle East, during a period of crisis and distress," the paper wrote.

Few details of the conference had been made public. Even as organizers began requesting passport information from journalists, the location of the four-day meeting had not been disclosed.

Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said at a cabinet meeting that he suspected the entire thing was a hoax, "completely unfounded and ... part of a political and diplomatic disinformation campaign against Lebanon."