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Monday, December 11, 2006

Iran Holocaust conference opens

Last Updated: Monday, 11 December 2006, 09:55 GMT

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Iran Holocaust conference opens

A two-day conference which says it will examine whether the
Holocaust actually happened has opened in Iran.
Organisers insist the event will offer a chance to discuss
"questions" about the Holocaust without taboos.

Several countries have condemned the conference, including
Germany - where Holocaust denial is a crime.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who backs the event, has
publicly questioned the scale of the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were

According to the Foreign Ministry in Tehran, 67 researchers from
30 countries are attending the conference in Iran, which is home to 25,000

Participants include a number of well-known "revisionist" Western
academics. American David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, is to
present a paper.

But a number of Jewish rabbis are also there. One, British Rabbi
Ahron Cohen, said he had come to the conference to put the "Orthodox Jewish
viewpoint" across.

"We certainly say there was a Holocaust, we lived through the
Holocaust. But in no way can it be used as a justification for perpetrating
unjust acts against the Palestinians," he said.

'Express views freely'

Opening the conference, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said
the aim of the conference was "not to deny or confirm the Holocaust".

"Its main aim is to create an opportunity for thinkers who cannot
express their views freely in Europe about the Holocaust," he said.

But earlier, a spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry, Manouchehr
Mohammadi, said the conference would examine fundamental questions about the

"The first question to be posed is: did the Holocaust actually
happen or not? And the second one is: if it did happen, what was the scale of

"The allegation that six million Jews were killed or burnt in this
event, is it true or not?"

The Iranian president has repeatedly downplayed the extent of the
killing, describing it as a myth used to justify the existence of Israel and
oppression of the Palestinians. He has called for Israel to be dismantled.

'Negative impression'

Iran knows this conference is going to cause outrage abroad but it
says it wants to test the limits of the West's commitment to freedom of
speech, says the BBC's correspondent in Tehran, Frances Harrison.

Iran is drawing a parallel with the Danish cartoons depicting the
Prophet Muhammad, which provoked outrage in the Islamic world but were
defended by Western liberals, she adds.

The US state department described the conference as "yet another
disgraceful act on this particular subject by the regime in Tehran".

Khaled Kasab Mahameed, an Israeli Arab who plans to attend the
conference and runs a small museum about the Holocaust in his home in
Nazareth, told the BBC that the concept was flawed.

"I think the Iranian president acknowledges the importance and the
centrality of the Holocaust in shaping policies in the world.

"He thinks that Israel gets support because of the Holocaust, so
his only weapon is to deny it, and that's not good."

Iran's one Jewish MP, Morris Motamed, told the BBC he opposed the

"Holding this conference after having a competition of cartoons
about the Holocaust has put a lot of pressure on Jews all over the world and
it can give nations and governments a very negative impression of Iran," he

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