Two obscure but vehemently anti-Jewish organizations, the Swiss "Truth and Justice" and the American "Institute for Historical Review," called for an international conference to be held at the end of March 2001 in Beirut on the subject of "Revisionism and Zionism." The sponsors of the conference, self-styled "revisionist historians," deny the mass extermination of millions of Jews by the Nazis (the Holocaust) during the Second World War in Europe. These European "revisionists" have been trying to promote in Arab circles the idea that the denial of the Holocaust could be a useful argument in their struggle against Zionism.
In a statement of protest denouncing the proposed conference, fourteen prominent Arab intellectuals rejected the "revisionists" and noted that they were "outraged by this anti-Semitic undertaking." Their call to the government of Lebanon to prohibit what they called this "inadmissible conference" significantly contributed to the decision by the Lebanese authorities to ban it.
The signatories of the protest statement were Edward Said, Mahmoud Darwish, Adonis, Mohamed Harbi, Jamel Eddine Bensheikh, Mohammed Verada, Dominique Edde, Elias Khouri, Gerard Khoury, Salah Stetie, Fayez Mallas, Farouk Mardam-Bey, Khalida Said, and Elias Sanbar. (Prof. Said subsequently said that, because of his support for "everyone's right to free speech," he did not actually sign the protest. But he declared, "I am deeply opposed to Holocaust denial.") There was also strong opposition to holding such conferences in other Arab countries.

The Tragedy and Its Impact

Among the widespread opposition to the proposed conference, the London-based Arabic language newspaper Al-Hayat wrote in an editorial that such a conference "disgraces Lebanon." Hani Shukrallah, the senior editor of the Egyptian Al-Ahram, described the sponsors of the conference as "a motley crew of European and American neo-Nazis and anti-Semites," adding that "people like Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish brought honor to all Palestinians and Arabs by… denouncing a Holocaust denial conference."
In recent years, Arab and especially Palestinian intellectuals have been increasingly studying the scope and implications of the genocide perpetrated by Nazi Germany against European Jewry. Thus the eminent Palestinian scholar Edward Said has stressed in an article that, without becoming acquainted with the horrors of the Holocaust and without apprehending the impact of this tragedy upon the surviving Jews and their descendants, it would be impossible to understand the psychological make-up of Israeli Jews. To this one may add that Israelis should understand why in this historical context the Palestinians see themselves as "victims of the victims."
Holocaust deniers are still at work all over the world; hence, as in the Irving trial, the importance of showing them up and denouncing their lies. Holocaust denial should be viewed for what it is: both as deliberate historical falsification, and as a moral and political ignominy that must be unreservedly and universally exposed and repudiated.