iran holocaust conferenc.
(photo credit: AP)
The organizers of a conference that opened yesterday in Teheran to "study" the Holocaust claim that their aim is "neither to deny or prove" that the Holocaust took place. How generous - and true. Indeed, Iranian leaders could care less about parsing European history.
The real purpose of the conference was succinctly expressed by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki: "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?"
While Holocaust denial is in most places either illegal or the province of quacks, the claim and belief that the Palestinians are paying the price for Western Holocaust guilt is much more widespread. Though coming from the exact opposite angle, Israel constantly reinforces the linkage between our existence and the Holocaust, in that we inculcate in everyone from foreign leaders to IDF officers the notion that if Israel had existed earlier, the Holocaust would not have happened.
Israel, in other words, often portrays itself as the answer and antidote to the Holocaust.
Iranian calls to "wipe Israel off the map" have been accentuating our case for some time. If, not long ago, it was difficult to convince people that the Muslim world had not come to terms with Israel's existence, now this is a fact that is hard to avoid. Iran is helping make clear that the "Arab-Israeli conflict" is not about borders, settlements or refugees, but about the radical Islamist refusal to accept the right of a Jewish state to exist in any shape or form.
The Iranian conference illustrates the linkage between Holocaust denial and Israel denial. In addition, it should serve as an opportunity to debunk the claim that the historical, legal and moral basis of Israel's existence is solely, or even mainly, born of European atonement for the Holocaust.
It was 89 years ago this month that Lord Arthur Balfour declared: "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine..."
In 1922 this policy was ratified by a vote of the League of Nations, which gave the British a mandate over Palestine with the express purpose of creating a "Jewish national home." The justice of this - decades before the Holocaust - became more obvious as the world came to recognize more than a dozen new Arab states at about the same time it accepted one Jewish state, Israel.
While most of the new Arab states had no national historical antecedents, the Jewish state, of course, did. The capital of Israel became Jerusalem, the city that King David established as his capital some 3,000 years before, where the First and Second Temples had stood for approximately 1,000 years, and toward which Jews had prayed for 2,000 years.
The point of Iran's "study conference" is to argue that Israel is an alien colonial implant. Actually, the Jewish state could not be more indigenous to this area, and its revival represents perhaps the greatest example of restorationist justice in history.
Nor is this view new, or even solely Jewish. As historian Michael Oren's new book, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present exhaustively documents, for centuries, long before the word "Zionism" was coined, leaders such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln believed in "restorationism" - the idea that the Jewish people should be restored to a state in their land.
The restoration of Jewish sovereignty over a small sliver of land was hardly at the expense of the Arabs, who came to enjoy many independent states of their own. The Iranian idea of justice is that the 22nd member of the Arab League, Palestine, be founded not alongside Israel but on our ashes.