A two-day "Holocaust conference" kicked off in Tehran on Monday. The government-sponsored event "Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision" attracted 67 speakers from 30 countries, including some who have been prosecuted in Europe for casting doubt on the mass murder of Jews by the Nazis.
The conference was inspired by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has already sparked international condemnation for his comments that the Holocaust was a "myth" and that Israel should be "wiped from the map."
The Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki opened the event saying that the "aim of the conference is not to deny or confirm the Holocuast," but "to create an opportunity for thinkers who cannot express their views freely in Europe about the Holocaust." These "thinkers" include the French writer Georges Thiel -- a convicted Holocaust denier -- five anti-Zionist rabbis, and David Duke -- a former Ku Klux Klan leader.
Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany and the country has spent the decades since World War II attempting to deal with its Nazi past. Predictably the German press is far from impressed with Tehran's instrumentalization of the Holocaust for its own ends.
The conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"The mass murder of the Jews during Nazi rule is and remains a singular crime, not to be compared or relativized. The Holocaust is a historical fact that up to today still has a traumatic effect not only on Jews. Whoever uses the cover of academic freedom to disavow it, mocks the millions of victims and their descendents.
"The 'Holocaust conference' that has opened in Tehran, and which, according to foreign minister Mottaki, wants to clarify things, beggars all description. Anti-Zionist US Rabbis, notorious and previously prosecuted Holocaust deniers, Ku Klux Klan members and neo-fascist-leaning 'scholars,' fill the podiums.
"The Israeli Arab Khaled Mahmaid, who has attempted to bring the mass murder during the Third Reich to the attention of his fellow Arabs with his own Holocaust documentation in Nazareth, was unwelcome. The brave ... lawyer wanted to publicly rebuke Ahmadinejad. He was therefore refused entry to Iran.
"For Ahmadinejad and the Iranian leadership clique the conference is neither about research nor enlightenment, but solely about further provoking the international community in general and Israel in particular."
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
The conference "could have been a way out of the dead end that Ahmadinejad has manouvered himself into. Iran's president described the mass murder of Europe's Jews as a 'myth' in order to distract attention from the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The Holocaust conference was his reaction to the harsh criticism such comments attracted.
"A serious conference could have allowed Tehran to send a historic signal. But the guest list made it clear in advance that this was not about a serious discussion of the historical facts, but a propaganda show. There are several proven Holocaust deniers among the 60 invited 'experts.' This makes the event an unusual and particularly unappealing event.
"Even in Iran itself the project is not greeted with unconditional approval. Iranian Jews, such as Moris Motamed, the single Jewish representative in the Iranian parliament, correctly described the propaganda farce as an 'insult.'
"It is obvious that Ahmadinejad just wants to provoke world public opinion once again -- with a cheap tit-for-tat response to the Muhammad cartoons, which were defended in the West by appeals to freedom of speech.
"He will use any means, even an alliance with far-right Holocaust deniers and revisionists, who are reviled in Europe. The government in Tehran obviously feels so secure due to the latest developments in Iraq that it believes it can afford this kind of behavior. The best thing to do would be to ignore their impertinences in the future."
The center-left Frankfurter Rundschau writes:
"It is commonly accepted that a Holocaust conference should be about the victims .... The mass murder of Europe's Jews is not just a burden of the past, but should also pose a challenge for democratic states in the present.
"The controversial gathering that the Mullah regime in Iran has named a 'Holocaust conference' has nothing to do with all that. It is a convention of Auschwitz deniers and history falsifiers, who think they are appearing enlightened because they are breaking taboos. A way of thinking that every European right-wing extremist would feel comfortable with."
-- Siobhán Dowling, 1:30 p.m. CET