Missionary man

Attorney Khaled Mahameed challenged the premise of the Holocaust denial conference in Teheran.

khaled mahameed 88 (photo credit: )
khaled mahameed 88
(photo credit: )
Nazareth attorney Khaled Mahameed's intention to challenge the premises of the Teheran conference on Holocaust denial attracted the attention of international news media - and the ire of the ADL. Khaled Mahameed, an Israeli-Arab attorney who set up a Holocaust museum in his Nazareth office with photographs from Yad Vashem, was planning to attend the Holocaust denial conference in Teheran this week. He hoped to tell the hosts and attendees: "Stop denying the Holocaust and start studying it, because it's this refusal to understand the Holocaust that caused such a catastrophe for the Palestinians." But on Sunday, when he was planning to go to Amman and catch an afternoon flight to Teheran, he made his final call to the Iranian Embassy in the Jordanian capital and was told that there was no visa for him. "They didn't give me any reason," he says. Asked by telephone how he felt to miss what would undoubtedly have been an extremely hostile confrontation, Mahameed, 44, with a slight laugh said, "Relieved." There had been a lot of tension in his house over the impending visit. His 10-year-old daughter became hysterical with fear one day in school. As for himself, though, Mahameed said he hadn't been worried. Last week I'd suggested to him that he might be in danger in Teheran, as the Iranian capital wasn't known for being as tolerant of harsh critics as, say, Boston, but the attorney said he had no fear. "The Iranians have the same image of Israel as you described of Iran, and I want to break this mutual fear. I want to challenge the denial and fear of the Iranians, of the ADL, of the Israelis, of the Palestinians, of everyone." Mahameed says he was invited to Teheran by the conference's organizers, under the auspices of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, after he sent them a copy of his book The Palestinians and the State of the Holocaust, a copy of which he also sent to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has infamously described the Holocaust as a "myth." Along with his book, Mahameed enclosed a letter to the organizers telling them he planned to "change their minds about the Holocaust." Still, they invited him to the conference, and he filled out the application form and e-mailed it back, along with a photocopy of his passport. Meanwhile, Mahameed's intention to challenge the premises of the Teheran conference attracted the attention of international news media. "The Iranians invited me because they've gotten themselves up a tall tree with their Holocaust denial and they want me to help them climb down," he told me last week when he still expected to make the trip to Teheran. He hoped he would even get to make his case before Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But the visa never came. Mahameed is sure the Iranians backed off once they saw from his passport that he's an Israeli citizen; until then, he had let them believe he was a Palestinian. SO IRAN doesn't want him. Unfortunately, he has been pretty well rejected at home, too - not only by Israeli Arabs but even by the Anti-Defamation League. The attorney, whose interest in Holocaust goes back to his youth, has tried to convince Nazareth leaders to send local pupils to his museum - which he's named the Arab Institute for Holocaust Research and Education - but has found no takers. He's tried to interest Arab journalists and politicians in what he has to say, and likewise been dismissed. Even his own brother has turned his back on him, Mahameed says. As for his reception by Israeli Jews, he was treated mainly as a curiosity when he opened the museum nearly two years ago, spending $5,000 of his own money on posters from Yad Vashem and other expenses. The opening was widely covered here and overseas. The museum includes some 80 photographs showing the most graphic scenes of Jewish death and suffering at the hands of the Nazis, with captions in Arabic. Also displayed, however, are a few photos of Palestinian refugees from Israel's 1948 War of Independence - which Palestinians refer to as their nakba, or catastrophe - and a Palestinian flag. These latter items led a Yad Vashem official to dismiss the museum, reportedly saying it "needs work." The ADL was much more elaborate, accusing Mahameed of abusing the legacy of the Holocaust by comparing Palestinian suffering to it and using it to delegitimize the State of Israel. While maintaining that a Holocaust museum designed for an Arab audience "can be a key first step in educating the Arab world about the unique horrors of the destruction of European Jewry," the ADL said in a statement last month that it was "troubled by the confused attempts by [Mahameed's museum] to justify Holocaust denial and the present-day plight of the Palestinians as the price of the Nazi Holocaust." It noted that Mahameed "is seeking to attend a conference on Holocaust denial in Iran next month" - without mentioning that he planned to speak against Holocaust denial. The statement came shortly after Mahameed met with local ADL officials. "The ADL says that if I connect the nakba and Israel with the Holocaust, I'm merely propagating traditional anti-Semitism," he said. "So I went there to Jerusalem and they visited me here, and I told them, 'You are victims of the Holocaust, and don't be afraid of that. You have to acknowledge this fact, that because you are victims of the Holocaust you treat the Palestinians out of that experience. That's what I mean when I say the Palestinians pay the price of the Holocaust." He said the ADL officials "seemed reassured" by his clarifications. THEY MOST certainly were not. "By placing the PLO flag at the museum, as well as posters of Palestinian refugees and photos of Palestinian victims of violence juxtaposed next to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, Mr. Mahameed also seeks to create a totally inappropriate connection between the plight of the Palestinians and the Jewish Holocaust victims. This approach undoes much of the benefit the museum could have," the ADL bristled. It also accused Mahameed of speaking in a relatively moderate voice to them and to foreign correspondents "in English," while taking a much more belligerent view in Arabic via his Web site and book. A quote the ADL pulled from his Web site read: "If the Second World War had not broken out, then something like the Holocaust would not have happened to the Jewish nation and likewise the Arab nations would not have paid the price which was manifested in Palestine." A quote taken from his book read, "The Holocaust is the only weapon that stole our homeland," while another read, "The Holocaust is the strongest Israeli weapon for ignoring Palestinian rights." The ADL urged Mahameed "to honor the tragedy of the Holocaust without a politicized artificial comparison to the current-day situation of the Palestinian people." After Mahameed was denied a visa to Iran, ADL spokesman Arieh O'Sullivan said the organization knew he had planned to go there to denounce Holocaust denial; it was the other part of his message that was intolerable. "If he was just going there to say that the Holocaust happened and to speak against Holocaust denial, that would be great, that would be fantastic," O'Sullivan said. "But he speaks out of both sides of his mouth. He doesn't just say the Holocaust happened, he also says the Palestinians pay the price of the Holocaust, which is a delegitimization of the Jewish state, and that's anti-Semitism. If he was going there to say that, then he shouldn't go." I asked Mahameed about his views of the Holocaust and what it had meant to Israel and the Palestinians. The answers he gave are not complimentary to Israel, but neither are they a "delegitimization" of the Jewish state or an expression of anti-Semitism. He says without any reservation that 6 million purely innocent Jews were murdered by the Nazis. However, he also says that "Western guilt" over the Holocaust was crucial to the world's recognition of the State of Israel and to its "abandonment" of the Palestinian refugees. Furthermore, he says Israel uses the memory of the Holocaust and Western guilt over it to gain political advantage over Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. He also says Israelis' trauma over the Holocaust is a key reason for the injustices it commits against the Palestinians, beginning with the refugees of 1948 and continuing until today. His own family, he adds, lost vast acreage in the War of Independence and moved to Umm el-Fahm, where Mahameed lives today. Finally, he says Palestinian denial of the Holocaust plays into the hands of Israel, which can then tell the world that the Palestinians are not only terrorists but defenders of Hitler as well. For all of these reasons and more, he urges the Arab world to recognize the facts of the Holocaust, to study it and "arrive at an Arab view of the Holocaust and present it to the Western world, instead of letting the Israeli view be the only one." HIS POLITICAL views on the Israeli-Arab conflict are decidedly moderate. I asked him if he thought the world, to whatever extent it was trying to redress the crime of the Holocaust, was right to recognize the State of Israel in 1948. Mahameed replied, "They did the right thing by accepting the existence of Israel, by taking responsibility [for the Holocaust with regard to] the Israelis. But they didn't take responsibility [with regard to] the refugees." He's not even arguing for the Palestinian right of return, only for a "Marshall Plan" to rehabilitate them economically. "I'm not talking about land or bringing refugees back to Israel, but to create an environment so the hate and loss of land will become marginal," he says. Mahameed also says the legacy of the Holocaust, along with the most peaceful traditions of Islam, should lead Palestinians to use "non-violent instruments of struggle against Israel - and not only physical non-violence but also verbal. I tell Palestinians, 'Don't accuse Israelis of racism, because then we bring the minds of Jewish people back to the time of horrors.'" What Mahameed told The Jerusalem Post, as well as what he told the BBC, the Independent, The Los Angeles Times and various other Israeli and international media, is about as far as can be from delegimitization of Israel or anti-Semitism. The ADL counters that he's saying one thing in English and another in Arabic, a la Yasser Arafat making nice in front of the Western cameras, while hissing to the Arab mobs, "Itbah al yahud" - slaughter the Jews. But Mahameed commands no mobs or masses; all he has is his message, and his message about the truth of the Holocaust has gone all over the world. It is a rare one coming from an Arab. Mahameed, meanwhile, says he is not discouraged by the cold shoulder he's received from the ADL, the Israelis, the Arabs or even the Iranians. "I'm going to find out who the speakers at that conference in Teheran were, and I'm going to send them letters," he says. "This is just the beginning."