December 11, 2006, was the first day of a notorious two-day conference in Tehran dedicated to a “scientific” look at the “alleged” Holocaust. Although the organizers of the event, the foreign ministry of Iran, claimed repeatedly that its object was “neither to deny nor prove” the Holocaust, the conference's 67 participants, from 30 different countries, included some of the world’s most outspoken Holocaust deniers.
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Additionally, much of the publicity emerging from the conference referred to Israel and the Palestinians, and suggested openly that Israel was using its claim of victimization at the hands of Nazi Germany as an excuse for perpetrating its own crimes against the Arabs. As the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Moutakki, explained, "If the official version of the Holocaust is thrown into doubt, then the identity and nature of Israel will be thrown into doubt. And if, during this review, it is proved that the Holocaust was a historical reality, then what is the reason for the Palestinians having to pay the cost of the Nazis' crimes?"
Helping to pursue this last point colorfully (in black-and-white) were several Jewish participants from the ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect, who came to Tehran to explain to the Muslim world that not all Jews support the State of Israel.
The immediate background to the convening of “Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision,” as the conference was dubbed, was the decision by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, in September 2005, to publish 12 political cartoons by different artists lampooning Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. Those cartoons, which were intended as a critique of radical Islam and its violence against those both within and outside the religion deemed as heretics, sparked a wave of demonstrations around the world by Muslims incensed by the supposed affront to the Prophet.
In turn, the violence led to a spirited debate in the West about the limits of free speech in democracies, one that obviously has not been resolved to this day.
At the time, Iran’s president was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a fundamentalist Muslim who liked nothing more than to tweak the sensibilities of his country’s enemies in the West, foremost among them the United States and Israel –the Great Satan and Little Satan, respectively
With his acute perceptive senses, Ahmadinejad understood that the Holocaust was not only a sacred topic among Jews, but also something that most of the civilized world agreed was one of the most horrific crimes in human history. If the free press of Western Europe, in this case, was willing to tolerate and even defend caricatures that made fun of Islam’s holiest symbols, Ahmadinejad’s government was set on giving it a taste of its own medicine.
Holocaust cartoon contest
That came in February 2006, when Farid Mortazavi, graphics editor of the semi-official Hamshahri newspaper, announced a contest for cartoons about the Holocaust.
As Mortazavi explained to the Guardian, “The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let's see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons."
The winners of the contest were announced in November 2006, and an exhibition of the entries was mounted in the capital that autumn.
Next up was the Global Vision conference, whose sponsor was the Institute of Institute for Political and International Studies, within the foreign ministry. Despite the scholarly trappings that surrounded the event, its real nature could be inferred by a glance at the list of participants. They included former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, from Louisiana, French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, the Moroccan-born Swede Ahmed Rami, founder of Radio Islam, and Yisrael Dovid Weiss, a spokesman for Neturei Karta.
President Ahmadinejad, who a year earlier had characterized the Holocaust as a myth, found time in his schedule to meet and greet the conference's participants.
One party who couldn't make it was David Irving, perhaps the most well-known and articulate of Holocaust deniers. At the time, Irving was serving a prison sentence in Austria after being convicted of what a court there deemed as neo-Nazi activity. His books, however, were prominently displayed at the conference.