State Department Acknowledges Pressure on Lebanon to Cancel Revisionist Meeting
The State Department has finally acknowledged that the United States government pressured Lebanon to ban a peaceful four-day meeting that was to be held in Beirut in the spring of 2001.
Gregg Sullivan, a spokesman for the Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, confirmed during telephone conversations with IHR director Mark Weber on December 10 and 11, 2001, that the State Department had told the Lebanese government earlier this year that "it would not be in the best interests" of the country to allow the "Revisionism and Zionism" conference to take place as scheduled, March 31 through April 3, 2001, because to do so would be "perceived badly internationally." The closely watched meeting was organized by the Swiss revisionist organization Vérité et Justice, in cooperation with the California-based Institute for Historical Review.
Shortly before the four-day conference was to begin, Lebanon's prime minister announced that it would not be permitted to take place. The cancellation followed public demands by three major Jewish organizations -- the World Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center -- that Lebanese authorities ban the meeting.
When asked to explain why the meeting would be "perceived badly," Sullivan said that conference speakers would have endorsed "terrorist aims" and "unilateral" or "extremist" solutions to the Middle East conflict. He added that the U.S. government opposes any "unilateral solution."
Weber responded by telling Sullivan that, to the best of his knowledge, none of the conference speakers would have expressed support for "terrorist aims." There is simply no basis for this charge, said Weber. This assertion is all the more remarkable considering that the conference presentations, and even the identities of several of the speakers, were not made public.
When Sullivan was pressed to provide evidence for the his assertions, he was unable or unwilling to do so.
In a letter to the State Department official, Weber wrote:
I suspect that you have no such evidence. I further suspect that the U.S. government asked Lebanon to ban this meeting in deference to Jewish-Zionist organizations and the Israeli government.
In our view, it is outrageous and arrogant for the U.S. government to tell the government of a friendly foreign country to ban a peaceful, legal meeting -- one that, by the way, would be perfectly legal in our own country. As you must know, many meetings similar to the one scheduled to take place in Beirut have been held over the years in the United States.
Imagine the response in Washington if the Mexican government was to tell American authorities to ban a meeting in San Diego because it didn't like what some of the scheduled speakers might say. We would indignantly tell the Mexicans to mind their own business, pointing out that our citizens are free to express views that foreign governments, and our own government, do not approve.
We do not believe that the U.S. government should uphold one standard of free speech for the United States, while pressing for another, inferior one, for Arab countries.
The State Department campaign to pressure Lebanon was first revealed by the Lebanese daily As Safir, March 3, 2001. The Beirut paper's Washington, DC, correspondent reported:
The American government desires of Lebanon that it prohibit convening a conference in Beirut of groups and organizations that deny that the Nazi "Holocaust" against the Jews occurred. It expressed its concern over the negative effects such a conference would have, not only on the reputation of Lebanon abroad, but also over the effects it might have on the attitude of Congress toward Lebanon and the aid it will grant it.
This has appeared at the same time that several American Jewish organizations demanded that the Lebanese government prohibit the convening of the conference, whose sponsors these organizations accused of being racist and anti-Semitic.
Informed American sources have told As Safir that Washington informed Lebanon of this position via its ambassador, David Satterfield in Beirut, and in communication with the Lebanese ambassador in Washington, Farid Abboud. Sources in Congress have also conveyed their reservations about the conference to the Lebanese government.
American officials say that Iran and "Hezbollah" in Lebanon are behind the organization of the conference, although they say that they have no firm proof of that. They add that if Lebanon cannot prohibit the conference on the grounds of freedom of expression -- particularly since similar conferences have been held in America and the authorities could not ban them -- then Lebanon must at least declare that it has no connection with the conference. American uneasiness over the conference stems from the content of the conference as well as from its timing -- coinciding as it does with an explosion of the situation between the Palestinians and Israelis and the tension that the region as a whole is experiencing.
The U.S. pressure campaign was also confirmed by the Forward, a well-informed, nationally circulated Jewish weekly. "The Lebanese government called off the event under pressure from American diplomats and the Simon Wiesenthal Center," reported the New York paper in a front page article, Nov. 23, 2001.
Detailed information about the "Revisionism and Zionism" conference and the Jewish campaign to ban it is posted on the "Conferences" section of the IHR web site.
From The Journal of Historical Review, March-April 2002 (Vol. 21, No. 2), page 5.