Banned in Beirut: The 2001 IHR Conference
Yet another example of the growing ties between Western Holocaust deniers and the Arab world came to light in December 2000, when the Institute for Historical Review announced that its 14th revisionist conference would take place in Beirut, Lebanon, in early April 2001. In previous years the IHR held its conventions closer to home, in places like Orange County, California, and Los Angeles. In another break with IHR tradition, the Beirut conference would have a theme:
Revisionism and Zionism. IHR was aided by its Swiss counterpart, Association Vérité et Justice, founded by Jurgen Graf. Scheduled speakers were to include Roger Garaudy, Robert Faurisson, Fredrick Toben and Mark Weber; speeches would be given in Arabic, French and English. IHR also pointedly announced that no one -- including journalists -- whose passport contained an Israeli entrance or exit stamp would be permitted to attend.
Soon after the conference was announced, several Jewish organizations voiced their concern about the possibility that the conference would lead to increased anti-Semitism in the region. The Simon Wiesenthal Center went so far as to urge the Lebanese government to intervene in the matter, saying that in the interests of regional peace, the conference must not go on. "There is a wide range of viewpoints as to how peace can be reached in your region," the Wiesenthal Center wrote to the Lebanese ambassador, "but certainly the introduction and acceptance of Holocaust denial into the mainstream of Lebanon and the Arab world is not one of them. It will only poison hearts and minds of the uninformed and further fan the flames of hate and mistrust in the region." Others also urged the Lebanese government to ban the conference, including, according to reports in the Arab press, the U.S. State Department. French news organizations announced that 14 independent Arab intellectuals had also denounced the conference, including Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwich, Lebanese writer Elias Khoury and Palestinian-American professor Edward Said.
By the end of March 2001, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri had announced that his government would not permit the conference to take place. "Lebanon has more important things to do than holding conferences that hurt its international standing and smear its name," al-Hariri said. News of the ban was applauded by Western politicians and writers, many of whom expressed the hope that the ban presaged growing cooperation between Israel and Arab countries. On March 30, IHR and
Vérité et Justice officially announced that the conference was called off, though some free-speech advocates in the West decried the decision.
The cancellation inspired another group, the anti-normalization Jordanian Writers' Association, to host a conference of its own, whose theme was described as "What Happened to the Revisionist History conference in Beirut?" Scheduled speakers included Lebanese, Jordanian and Syrian writers, one of whom pledged to read the paper Robert Faurisson had intended to give at the Beirut conference. Though the Jordanian authorities caused the postponement of JWA's conference at least twice (while the Jordanian king was visiting the United States), the conference eventually took place in Amman on May 13, 2001. According to one of the organizers, Ibrahim Alloush, the participants resolved to condemn the 14 Arab intellectuals who had opposed the Beirut conference, and to establish an "Arab Committee of Historical Revisionism."