The Iranian government announced last weekend that it is planning a conference on the Holocaust and intends to invite academics such as German neo-Nazi Horst Mahler, the Israeli journalist and Christian convert Israel Shamir and the historian David Irving -- all of whom are Holocaust deniers -- as guest speakers.
While there was some debate among western officials immediately after the announcement was made as to whether the conference would actually take place or that it was intended to provoke, politicians, especially in Germany, were up in arms at the idea of such a conference.
"This is international anti-Semitism at work," said Gert Weisskirchen, the foreign affairs spokesman for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel. His parliamentary colleague, Left Party member Norman Paech, added that the conference was part of an on-going "strategy of provocation" being employed by the Iranian government.
Werner Hoyer from the free-market liberal Free Democratic Party told Der Spiegel that the idea of the conference was "untenable" and that such a meeting of Holocaust skeptics at a time of heightened tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions was a "dangerous spark in the powder keg."
Ahmadinejad spreading anti-Semitic doctrine, claims Green chief
Green party chief Reinhard Bütikofer said that the planned conference was further evidence that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was pursuing an "unrestrained policy of anti-Semitic indoctrination" in Iran. President Ahmadinejad has called the Holocaust a "myth" and has questioned the right of Israel to exist.
Bütikofer said Ahmadinejad had used public statements questioning the legitimacy of the Holocaust to mobilize Iranian fundamentalists. This will lead, he said, to "the international isolation of the Iranian regime." Everybody which gets involved in anti-Semitism or racism soils its own culture and nation, he added. "This also applies to Iran."
Weisskirchen meanwhile cautioned western leaders not to be sucked into a further row with Iran as the so-called "Holocaust experts" could not be taken seriously. He added that Ahmadinejad was trying to validate his stance on denial by inviting well-known authorities on the subject.
"Ahmadinejad apparently now tries to give a quasi-scientific meaning to his rhetoric," Weisskirchen said.
As well as condemning the conference, German politicians were quick to point out that any Germans who spoke at the conference would have to accept the legal consequences. Holocaust denial is a criminal offence in Germany.
Irving and others would be free to speak in Iran with impunity
British historian David Irving is currently awaiting trial in Austria on charges of Holocaust denial and faces a possible sentence of between one to 10 years in prison if found guilty.
Irving, whose trial begins on Feb. 20, was arrested in the southern province of Styria in November under a warrant issued in 1989. Irving held two speeches in Austria that year, during which he allegedly claimed there had been no gas chambers at Auschwitz.
However, Gerry Gable, the former editor of anti-fascist magazine Searchlight and an authority on Irving told DW-WORLD that if Irving escapes prosecution in Austria, he and his fellow speakers will be free to travel to the Middle East to speak with impunity.
"Iran obviously has no law against Holocaust denial and therefore if Irving or anyone else speaks there they will not be punished," Gable said. "Irving cannot be punished in any other country for denying the Holocaust in one with no laws against it."