Jewish World Review May 30, 2001/ 8 Sivan 5761
Richard Z. Chesnoff
The Syrian president's shocking anti-Jewish rant during Pope John Paul's recent pilgrimage was bad enough. But now Assad has flabbergasted even his own officials by reportedly okaying an international Holocaust-denial conference in Damascus by year's end.
A Syrian Embassy spokesman in Washington insisted he had "no knowledge" of the plan but said he "believed" the report incorrect.
The conference — which seeks to "scientifically prove" that the Holocaust never took place — is being organized by French propagandist Roger Garaudy, a former Communist who converted to Islam, and his Iranian-based Swiss cohort, Jurgen Graf. Originally scheduled for Beirut last month, it was canceled after Lebanese authorities found themselves inundated with international protests.
Garaudy, who claims Jews "invented" the Holocaust to justify the establishment of Israel, then turned to Assad. Syria's Foreign Ministry strongly recommended a presidential veto. But according to one Mideast diplomat, Assad jumped at the chance: "He believes that anything he says against Jews will increase his status in the Arab world."
In fact, Holocaust denial and rabid anti-Semitism are new to neither Syria nor the Arab world. Copies of that classic fake "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," which claims there's a Jewish plot to take over the world, are sold across the Arab world. Syrian Minister of Defense Mustafa Tlass' book, "The Matzah of Zion," perpetuates the lie that Jews use Christian blood to bake Passover matzos and reportedly is being made into a Syrian government-financed film.
Anti-Jewish hatred also enabled a number of leading Nazi war criminals to find postwar political asylum in Egypt, Iraq and Syria.
Still, it is Holocaust denial that has captured Arab attention of late. As propagandists see it, denying the truth of the slaughter of 6 million Jews somehow denies any justification for Israel.
Hamas officials refer to the "alleged" Holocaust and loudly question whether the death camps existed.
The same theme is echoed in mosques from the Arabian peninsula to Lebanon. Jerusalem's Mufti Ikrema Sabri recently declared, "Six million [Jews killed]? It was a lot less. ... It's not my fault that Hitler hated Jews. The Jews are hated all over the world." The mufti then carried his denials back another 3,000 years by insisting that King Solomon never built a temple atop the Jerusalem mount that now houses the Muslim Dome of the Rock.
Egypt, the first nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel, also has latched on to Holocaust denial. And a Holocaust-denial meeting has been held this month in Amman, Jordan, under the sponsorship of the Jordanian Writers Union. The gathering heard writer Arafat Hijazi make the twisted claim that "the number of Jews [killed in World War II] did not exceed 3 million ... and the number of available gas chambers then could not burn more than half the bodies."
Fortunately, that was too much even for some Arabic observers. "What purpose does such a statement serve?" asked the Jordan Times. "It has long been fashionable in our region to either deny the Holocaust or question its true magnitude, presumably in order to erode the foundations on which Israel itself was established. This misguided exercise is self-defeating."
Let's hope Bashar Assad reads the Jordan Times, or maybe