TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's hard-line president said Tuesday that Israel will one
day be "wiped out" as the Soviet Union was, drawing applause from participants
in a conference casting doubt on the Holocaust.
Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, left, meets participants of a conference on the Holocaust, as
anti-Zionism Rabbis sit at the first row at right, in Tehran, Iran,
Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2006. [AP]
\President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments were likely to further fuel the
outcry prompted by the two-day gathering, which has gathered some of Europe's
and the United States' best-known Holocaust deniers.
Anger over the conference could further isolate Iran as the West considers
sanctions in the standoff over Tehran's nuclear program.
But Ahmadinejad appeared to revel in his meeting Tuesday with conference
delegates, shaking hands with American participants and sitting near six
anti-Israel Jewish participants, dressed in black ultra-Orthodox coats and hats.
"The Zionist regime will be wiped out soon the same way the Soviet Union was,
and humanity will achieve freedom," Ahmadinejad said during Tuesday's meeting in
his offices, according to the official IRNA news agency.
He called for elections among "Jews, Christians and Muslims so the population
of Palestine can select their government and destiny for themselves in a
Ahmadinejad has used anti-Israeli rhetoric and cast doubt on the Holocaust to
rally anti-Western supporters at home and abroad, particularly in Asia and the
Middle East. Several times he has referred to the Holocaust as a "myth" used to
impose the state of Israel on the Arab world.
"The Holocaust is the device used as the pillar of Zionist imperialism,
Zionist aggression, Zionist terror and Zionist murder," David Duke, a former Ku
Klux Klan leader and former state representative in Louisiana, told The
Ahmadinejad announced the conference would set up a "fact-finding commission"
to determine whether the Holocaust happened or not. The commission will "help
end a 60-year-old dispute," he said.
The Tehran conference was touted by participants and organizers as an
exercise in academic freedom and a chance to openly consider whether 6 million
Jews really died in the Holocaust, away from Western taboos and the restrictions
imposed on scholars in Europe, where some countries have made it a crime to deny
the Nazi genocide during World War II.
It gathered 67 writers and researchers from 30 countries, most of whom argue
that either the Holocaust did not happen or that it was vastly exaggerated. Many
have been jailed or fined in France, Germany or Austria, where it is illegal to
deny the Holocaust.
Participants milled around a model of the Auschwitz concentration camp
brought by one speaker, Australian Frederick Toben, who uses the mock-up in
lectures contending that the camp was too small to kill mass numbers of Jews.
More than 1 million people are estimated to have been killed there.
Rabbi Moshe David Weiss, one of six members attending from the group Jews
United Against Zionism, told delegates, "We don't want to deny the killing of
Jews in World War II, but Zionists have given much higher figures for how many
people were killed."
"They have used the Holocaust as a device to justify their oppression," he
said. His group rejects the creation of Israel on the grounds that it violates
Jewish religious law.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday that the conference was
"shocking beyond belief" and "a symbol of sectarianism and hatred."
In Washington, the White House condemned Iran for convening a conference it
called "an affront to the entire civilized world."