Beliefnet
BEIRUT, Lebanon, May 22 (AP)--Despite widespread anger at Israel, some Arabs are calling on Lebanon to ban a planned international gathering here of Holocaust revisionists, warning that holding the first such meeting in an Arab capital damages Lebanon's international image.

Organizers in the United States, citing security, have not announced the exact location of the March 31-April 3 meeting in Beirut, which a Jewish organization has described as ``a gathering of hate.'' The Lebanese government has not made up its mind on whether to allow the conference on ``Revisionism and Zionism'' meeting, which is being organized by right-wing groups in the United States and Europe.

The Lebanese government has previously banned activities that were deemed ``damaging to Lebanon's relations with a friendly country.'' But Lebanon is technically at war with Israel.

Last month, the government supported a conference on Jerusalem that brought together militant Palestinian and Lebanese groups. A Cabinet minister addressed the opening of the conference, which called in its recommendations for the uprooting of Israel. Hezbollah, the Lebanese guerrilla group that fought Israeli forces in southern Lebanon for 18 years, was a key participant in the meeting.

Hezbollah has distanced itself from the revisionists' conference. Hezbollah officials said they were unaware of the circumstances of the meeting and were not involved in organizing it.

The Beirut conference was described by one of the organizers, the Newport Beach, California-based Institute for Historical Review, as ``a landmark'' meeting which ``reflects, and will further strengthen, growing cooperation between revisionists in the West and Muslim countries.''

The group's internet webpage said the Beirut conference's importance is evident from the ``anxious denunciations'' by Jewish organizations and the ``steady stream of guest registrations.'' Apparently because of fears the meeting could be disrupted, participants must register ahead of the conference and give organizers the name of someone who can vouch for them. Participants will be informed by telephone of the venue only upon arriving in Beirut.

Verite et Justice, or ``Truth and Justice,'' a Swiss-based organization, is listed as the co-organizer of the planned meeting. Its head, Juergen Graf, is currently in Iran after a Swiss court sentenced him in 1998 to 15 months in jail for ``Holocaust denial,'' according to the Institute for Historical Review.

The organizers may have been counting on finding sympathy among Arabs often at odds with Israel and Jews. Arab anger has increased following the collapse of the Middle East peace process and amid the outbreak of Palestinian-Israeli violence in the last six months that has killed more than 430 people, 355 of them Palestinians.

Fathi Kleib, Beirut spokesman for the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine guerrilla group, said while he had no opinion on holding the conference in Lebanon, ``reviewing and rereading history is beneficial in all cases.'' Kleib said Israel has concentrated on the Holocaust in ``an exaggerated way'' while it denied the Palestinians their rights.

But some Arabs say if the meeting is held in Lebanon, it will only bring bad publicity.

Fourteen Arab intellectuals, including prominent Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and others from Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco and Syria, have signed a letter calling for the event to be canceled. In excerpts of a letter published in the local press, they said they ``were outraged by this anti-Semitic undertaking.''

The pan-Arab Al Hayat, a widely read newspaper, joined in warning against such a gathering.

``Its damage to Lebanon is guaranteed,'' the newspaper said in an editorial this week.

Lebanon is keen on attracting foreign investment and tourists to shore up an ailing economy weakened by debt and budget deficit after a 15-year civil war.

Al Hayat writer Abdul-Wahhab Badrekhan, known for his fiercely anti-Israeli views, said the Lebanese government must not hesitate to ban such a meeting on its soil in order to avoid ``the great damage'' that will befall Lebanon's international standing and reputation. He added that if Lebanon could not stop the meeting ``then 'the actual government' that runs the country'' should intervene - an apparent reference to neighboring Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon.

Jewish organizations, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which described the meeting as ``a gathering of hate,'' have complained to the Lebanese government. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center's associate dean, wrote to Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Feb. 28, saying the revisionist conference will not help the quest for Mideast peace, and ``will only poison hearts and minds of the uninformed and further fan the flames of hate and mistrust in the region.''

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus