Philosophical Reflections on Iran’s 2006 ‘International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust’ (Part 2/4)
► Auschwitz: Intersecting Nations and Enmeshed in the Political: The most striking aspect of the Iranian conference was the way participants treated the Holocaust as a wholly secularized historical event. In an interview with Iranian Channel 2, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responds to a question concerning whether “defying the norms” regarding the Holocaust has led to increased pressure on the disputed Iranian nuclear program. Ahmadinejad responds:
[The Americans] tell us to operate within this framework alone, but we say: “No. You come from far away to intervene in the [nuclear] issue against us, so why shouldn’t we intervene [in your affairs]?” We’ve seen that this issue [the Holocaust] was the weak point of the Western front, and we were right to raise this issue. For 60 years, they have been building a certain discourse and a certain political order in the world, based on oppression, exploitation, and the trampling of justice. The question we raised cast doubt about it all. (“Interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which aired on Iranian Channel 2 on January 23, 2007.” The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI))
Later in the same interview he expresses his frustration: “this issue [the Holocaust] has become sacred, and they don’t let us discuss it.” Ahmadinejad is likely aware of the transformation occurring to conceptions of the Holocaust, stemming primarily from its concretization and narritivizations in the popular media.
The transcript of a press conference held by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon a day after the Iranian conference reveals that the Holocaust – understood as a historical event – intersects not only with Iran’s nuclear program and its relations with Israel, but with the status of the European Union and global nuclear weapons treaties:
Question: One of the subjects that you did not mention was the question of Iran and its own nuclear programme, and also its relations with Israel, especially in light of the recent Holocaust-denial conference in Tehran. I was wondering whether you plan to take any initiatives with Iran on either of those issues.
Mr. Ban: As you know, the Security Council is engaged and is currently discussing a second resolution on Iran. I hope that the issue can be resolved at the negotiating table in a timely manner. I think that this Iranian nuclear development issue has much greater implications on the situation in the region and globally. Therefore, I would urge the authorities of Iran to engage in negotiations, as they had been with the European Union + 3 countries. The most desirable way is to resolve all the pending issues in a peaceful way through dialogue. The second part of your question was on…?
Question: On Iran’s relations with Israel, whose elimination it has called for, and also the denial of the Holocaust.
Mr. Ban: Denying historical facts, especially on such an important subject as the Holocaust, is just not acceptable. Nor is it acceptable to call for the elimination of any State or people. I would like to see this fundamental principle respected both in rhetoric and in practice by all the members of the international community.
Question: Dear Mr. Secretary, on behalf of the Islamic Republic News Agency, I welcome you to the UN. My question is: Israel has officially ended its nuclear ambiguity policy, and Mr. Olmert has publicly confirmed the possession of nuclear weapons by Israel. Don’t you think that peace and security in the region have been seriously threatened?
Mr. Ban: Again, I would urge the parties concerned, on this issue, to engage themselves in dialogue so that all the issues could be resolved in a peaceful way.
Question: I would like to ask about the Holocaust denial conference one more time…. (The question and answer session continues) (from “Transcript of a press conference held by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at UN headquarters” United Nations. December 14, 2006.)
The reader of the above question and answer session may construct in their own mind a Holocaust without semblance to a genocide that stands in its own unique universe. The session above oscillates between (A) current political dilemmas and (B) the Holocaust. Its structure is: (A) Iran’s nuclear program and relationship with Israel > (B) Holocaust denial conference > (A) Negotiations in the European Union > (B) Iran’s denial of the Holocaust > (A) Present day state sponsored genocide > (B) The end of Israel’s nuclear ambiguity policy > (A) Holocaust denial conference.
In this context we become aware of the rationale for the attendance of certain participants to travel to the conference. The Holocaust, appearing before them as a questionable and falsifiable historical event, could further their own ideological agendas.
Following the speech of Rabbi Yisroel David Weiss of the Neturei Karta International, (Orthodox) Jews United Against Zionism, news outlets around the world were bombarded by the scandalous, and now iconic, photographs of orthodox Jews shaking the hands of high ranking Iranian officials. Weiss’ December 12, 2006 speech at the conference advocates questioning the facts and status of the Holocaust as it applies to Zionism and the continuance of the Israeli state. (see Weiss, David. “Speech at the Global Vision Conference Transcript” Neturei Karta International Website. ) He begins his speech by admitting, in plain and clear language, that the Holocaust did happen. His parents and grandparents were, he admits, murdered in the death camps. Following this admission he, like Ahmadinejad, expresses his frustration that “many people say we can’t talk about this subject”. For Weiss, the Holocaust is an event that, by virtue of its traditionally unquestionable status, has hindered adequate attention to one of his ideological concerns, the condition of the Palestinian occupied territories.
But Weiss’ rhetoric goes deeper than this. He feels it is necessary to engage in debate over the facts and status of the Holocaust because of, what he takes to be, its appropriation as a nationalist tool. For the Neturei Karta International, Zionism appears to be a turning away from the “truth of Torah”. The Zionists, Weiss claims (although does not arrive at the conference with proof…), were responsible for the abandonment and murder of many orthodox Jews who opposed the Israeli state. As a result, he harbors anger against Zionism and calls for “Zionist Nurenburg trials” in his speech at the Iranian conference. As a result of an unquestionable Holocaust he has not been – hitherto – able to realize his dream of dismantling the Israeli state.
A consequence of the phenomenon observed above (the desacralization of the Holocaust and its emergence as an event interrelated with political and national affairs) is that ‘Global Vision’ conference attendees utilized a lexicon of scientific research and reasoning when discussing the Holocaust. I’ll turn to this in my next post.