The Iranian Holocaust Conference currently being held in Tehran has attracted the usual collection of sceptics, deniers and cranks. The two-day event, initiated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, aims to discuss whether six millions Jews were killed by the Nazis in the 1930s and ‘40s and the existence of gas chambers in the death camps.
The Iranian foreign ministry has said that 67 foreign researchers from 30 countries were allowed to participate, and included notorious Holocaust denier and Adelaide resident, Frederick Tobin (who brought a model of Auschwitz that allegedly “proved” the absence of gas chambers there), Michele Renouf, an Australian socialite who supports “Holocaust sceptics” and David Irving, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and a host of other notorious figures. One Palestinian dissenter was refused entry.
Ahmadinejad told delegates that, “just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out.” International leaders have condemned his comments, though in many ways the vast media coverage has served to promote a radically fringe event and simply added to the already feverish pressure on the Islamic regime.
One of the strangest sights at the conference has been Orthodox Jews both attending and embracing Ahmadinejad. Rabbi Ahron Cohen, from Manchester’s Jews Against Zionism, said that he wasn’t denying the Holocaust – “I and many others lost countless friends and relatives who perished by industrial genocide” – but believed that the establishment of Israel had violated Jewish law and resulted in the persecution of the Palestinians.
So what do Iranians themselves think? One Iranian journalist outside the conference said to The Independent: “it makes me ashamed, so ashamed.”
Kamangir, an Iranian now living in Canada, has posted extensively on his blog about the conference. He is damning of the event: “Is anyone going to tell me how many Iranians have asked their tax to be used for this ‘scientific’ conference?” In another post, he muses on the embraces between Ahmadinejad and Orthodox Jews: “It seems that for a moment Ahmadinejad has forgot that according to many clerics these people are ‘filthy’.”
Ahmadinejad has made any number of inflammatory statements over the last year regarding Israel, the Jews and the Holocaust, though University of Michigan’s History Professor Juan Cole claims that many of his comments, such as wanting to “wipe Israel off the map” have been badly translated. Many hawks still want military action against Iran’s alleged (though unproven) nuclear capabilities, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today that military action is off the table.
Israeli commentator Neta Sela quotes Israel’s Holocaust Museum Director who claims the Iranian Holocaust Conference has the intent “of destroying the moral basis for the existence of the state of Israel as a home for the Jewish people.”
There is no question that Ahmadinejad is an uneducated Holocaust denier who loathes the Jewish state, but to suggest that military action is either appropriate or necessary requires a morality bypass that the Iraq debacle should have cured once and for all.