Iran's denial of Holocaust harms Arab cause, Palestine activist tells president

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has come under attack for his views on the Holocaust from an unexpected quarter - a Palestinian activist recently freed after 18 years in an Israeli jail.

Mr Ahmadinejad was widely reviled in the West last year for saying the Holocaust was "a myth" and that Israel should be "wiped off the map". Later he said he did not know if the slaughter of six million Jews really happened, condemned laws in some European countries against Holocaust denial, and said that if Europe felt guilt about the Jews, it should create a homeland for them on European soil.

Against this background, a two-day conference on the Holocaust, starting in Tehran tomorrow, has attracted considerable suspicion abroad. The Foreign Affairs Ministry, which is running the event, says 67 international researchers will attend, including some from Britain and Germany. It is not yet clear whether they will include known revisionists or respected academics, but Khaled Mahameed, a lawyer who set up the Arab world's first Holocaust museum in Nazareth, said he had been invited to speak.

However, Mr Ahmadinejad has been condemned on the eve of the conference by Mahmoud al-Safadi, who was sentenced to 27 years by Israel for throwing Molotov cocktails during the 1988 intifada. In an open letter to the Iranian president, he says that Mr Ahmadinejad's stance is a "great disservice to popular struggles the world over".

"Perhaps you see Holocaust denial as an expression of support for the Palestinians," he writes. "Here, too, you are wrong. We struggle for our existence and our rights, and against the historic injustice that was dealt us in 1948.

"Our success and our independence will not be gained by denying the genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people, even if parts of this people are the very forces that occupy and dispossess us to this day."

Mr Safadi says that reading the works of Arab intellectuals helped convince him that the Holocaust was a historical fact.

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