Thursday, December 1, 2011

Post #95 - Holocaust Denial

(While this topic is not ordinarily included under "human rights abuses," it seems appropriate to add it, when attempting to under Iranian attitudes toward human dignity.)

Mrs. Eva Kor, Shoah survivor
A conference was held in Tehran in December 2006, which has been widely condemned. It focused on the Holocaust in Europe during the 1940's, but in a different way than most such gatherings – the program featured speakers who either questioned or outright denied the historical fact of the genocide. They included David Duke, known for his racist approach to politics in the American South, and several European Holocaust skeptics. Also represented was Naturei Karta, an orthodox Jewish group that opposes Zionism on religious grounds. In trying to know the truth of Iranian views on Judaism, Zionism and Israel, it is nearly impossible to find objective sources of information, but it is important that we obtain that knowledge.

David Duke in Tehran
Many Iranian (and Arab) commentators begin from an assumption that the Israelis are responsible for much of the region's problems. Many Israeli or Israel-supportive commentators tend to spin every story to maximum effect in the other direction. Both often show little regard for the facts. (It is laudable that when Prof. Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University established an online resource to counteract holocaust denial, she said "The weight of this site is its integrity...We know that deniers will look for any errors on the site to exploit for their own purposes...We have to [adhere] to the highest standards." Her site -- -- is being translated into Turkish, Russian, Arabic and Persian, by fall of 2008. Unfortunately, the denier myths selected are "exploded" in a rather simplistic way -- likely not persuasive to those who see the effort as a part of a continuing "hoax.")

All that can be known without doubt is that President Ahmadinezhad is strongly antagonistic to the current governance of Israel and the Occupied Territories, that many Israelis feel an “existential threat” from Iran, and that the subject is one that is rarely discussed with calm tolerance.

Ahmadinezhad, a former mayor of Ardebil (a town in the northwest of Iran where I once conducted in-country orientation for new Peace Corps volunteers), triumphed over the insider Rafsanjani, reformist candidates who had disappointed the public with their ineffectual attempts at change, and others more experienced than himself. He promised the voters a “common touch,” alleviation of poverty and a defiant attitude toward the West, which has been imposing sanctions – and with them hardship and stunted development – on the people of Iran for many years. He has played those cards for all they are worth.

On the other hand, a statement signed in March, 2007, by thirty noted Iranian scholars – in the United States, UK, France and Canada, but also a number who live and work in Iran – was issued to clearly confirm the reality of the Holocaust – and to clarify the position of Iranians generally. Their statement read, in part:

"…testimonies of the survivors and researches carried out by numerous historians have unequivocally confirmed the Jewish genocide during the World War. Besides the genocide of the Jewish people, historians have also spoken of the mass murders of the gypsies, the Slav people, potential and actual opponents of the Nazi regime, the disabled, prisoners of war, and even in the closing days of the war, the incapacitated German soldiers.
From "Shoah" by Claude Lanzmann
"Moreover, the voluminous anti-Semitic and racist literature left from the Nazis shed light on the roots of this inhuman hysteria. The accuracy of the accounts has been acknowledged by many academic, political and religious authorities...They have all condemned these crimes. On the other hand, there have always been a few individuals who have denied the genocide of the Jewish people or questioned its significance, through casting doubt on the number of people murdered or the manner in which they were put to death. The majority of the speakers in the recent conference held in Tehran were from amongst those few.
"In the history of mankind, there have been dark events that have treaded [sic] upon human values and broken basic moral principles in such a way that make them distinct from other comparable events. The scars left behind on the face of humanity by these events are irreversible and talking inconsiderately about them can only be described as rubbing salt into the wound and exacerbating the pain. This is in particular true of the crimes committed during the Second World War, some survivors of which are still among us. Those who perpetuate the discourse on Holocaust denial ignore the feelings of the people directly affected by this event. These people include, among others, a group of our Jewish fellow citizens in Iran.
"One of the main claims put forward in the Tehran conference was that the Holocaust, as a historical event, has been used as a tool to justify the policies of the state of Israel. The creation of the state of Israel on the lands of Palestine has its own history. No matter what political position we adopt regarding the creation of Israel and its further expansion, the historical evidence for the Holocaust remains intact. The fact that since the inception of the state of Israel many crimes have been committed against the Palestinian population does not provide moral ground for the denial or undermining of the genocide of the Jewish people…Claims such as those that were uttered in the conference held in Tehran, can only work to the detriment of the rightful cause of the Palestinians and the efforts of the proponents of peace in Israel.
"We are of the opinion that holding a conference in Tehran in support of the denial of the Holocaust has perpetuated an immoral stance that seriously endangers the culture of peace and the peaceful cohabitation of human beings."

(See my earlier post on this subject, #79. Readers may also wish to see an account of a recent visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, written by my friend and colleague Jim Forest:

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