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(photo credit: AP)
A two-day conference of prominent Holocaust deniers taking place in Teheran is an attempt by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "to pave the way psychologically" for the Western world to accept that another Holocaust is possible, Yosef Lapid, the chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, said Monday.
Lapid, a Holocaust survivor and former justice minister, said Ahmadinejad was following in the footsteps of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who turned Jews into parasites worthy of being murdered.
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The conference, organized by the Iranian Foreign Ministry's Institute for Political and International Studies, is being attended by 67 participants from 30 countries, including several from Europe, an American white-supremacist politician and former Ku Klux Klan member and half a dozen haredim from the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect.
The Neturei Karta participants, conspicuous in their traditional black garb, were repeatedly interviewed on television wearing badges with the Israeli flag crossed out that read: "A Jew, not a Zionist."
"It is the work of Satan that Zionists are able to convince the world that they represent Jews and Judaism and everybody who speaks against it is anti-Semitic," Yisrael Weiss said in an interview. He did say what he was doing at the conference.
Lapid said he refused to take such "buffoons" seriously.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert denounced the conference before embarking on a two-day trip to Germany.
"This is a sick phenomenon that shows the depth of hatred of the fundamentalist Iranian regime," he said.
The Foreign Ministry slammed the event, which opened Monday in Teheran amid international protests, as a "shameless initiative" taken by the Iranian government.
Ahmadinejad, who continuously calls for the destruction of Israel, was "falsifying the past and the present," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"The statements and acts by the Iranian president are clearly counter-factual and stand in stark contradiction to history, as endorsed unanimously by the international community," the statement said.
"By denying or questioning the Holocaust, the most extreme form of genocide to date, he is challenging the essence of the notion of universal human rights, which was developed by the international community after - and because of - the Shoah.
"His statements regarding his wish for the destruction of the State of Israel, a member-state of the UN, should be seen as threatening another genocide.
"Such positions, which contravene the UN Convention... endanger civilization and demand universal rejection," the statement said.
Among the Holocaust deniers attending the conference are France's Robert Faurisson, Frederick Toben of Australia, who was jailed in Germany in 1999 for questioning the Holocaust, and David Duke, a former Louisiana state representative and Ku Klux Klan leader.
"The number of victims at the Auschwitz concentration camp could be about 2,007," Toben told the conference, according to a Farsi translation of his comments. "The railroad to the camp did not have enough capacity to transfer large numbers of Jews."
Duke praised Ahmadinejad for his "courage" in holding a conference "to offer free speech for the world's most repressed idea: Holocaust revisionism."
"In Europe you can freely question, ridicule and deny Jesus Christ," he said in a speech. "The same is true for the prophet Muhammad, and nothing will happen to you. But offer a single question of the smallest part of the Holocaust and you face prison."
Organizers touted the conference as a scholarly gathering aimed at discussing the Holocaust away from Western taboos and the restrictions imposed on scholars in Europe. It is illegal to deny the Holocaust in Germany, Austria and France.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki dismissed foreign criticism as "predictable," saying in a speech that there was "no logical reason for opposing this conference."
"The objective for organizing this conference is to create an atmosphere to raise various opinions about a historical issue," he said. "If the official version of the Holocaust is thrown into doubt, then the identity and nature of Israel will be thrown into doubt. And if, during this review, it is proved that the Holocaust was a historical reality, then what is the reason for the Muslim people of the region and the Palestinians having to pay the cost of the Nazis' crimes?"
Ahmadinejad has dismissed the Holocaust as a "myth" and has repeatedly called for Israel to be wiped off the map.
A controversial Holocaust cartoons contest that was held in Teheran earlier this year also caused an outrage in the West.
AP contributed to this report.