WHO, WHAT, WHY?
The Magazine answers...
Orthodox Jews at the controversial Tehran debate
Why are Jews attending a conference on the Holocaust in Tehran at which star guests include deniers of the genocide? Clue: they also want an end to the Israeli state.
A handful of Orthodox Jews have attended Iran's controversial conference questioning the Nazi genocide of the Jews - not because they deny the Holocaust but because they object to using it as justification for the existence of Israel.
With their distinctive hats, beards and side locks, these men may, to the untrained eye, look like any other Orthodox believers in Jerusalem or New York. But the Jews who went to Tehran are different.
Some of them belong to Neturei Karta (Guardians of the City), a Hasidic sect of a few thousand people which views Zionism - the movement to establish a Jewish national home or state in what was Palestine - as a "poison" threatening "true Jews".
WHO, WHAT, WHY?
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A representative, UK-based Rabbi Aharon Cohen, told the conference he prayed "that the underlying cause of strife and bloodshed in the Middle East, namely the state known as Israel, be totally and peacefully dissolved".
In its place, Rabbi Cohen said, should be "a regime fully in accordance with the aspirations of the Palestinians when Arab and Jew will be able to live peacefully together as they did for centuries".
Neturei Karta believes the very idea of an Israeli state goes against the Jewish religion.
The book of Jewish law or Talmud, they say, teaches that believers may not use human force to create a Jewish state before the coming of the Messiah.
But how do Neturei Karta and other Orthodox Jews such as Austria-based Rabbi Moishe Ayre Friedman justify attending such a controversial conference?
Rabbi Friedman told BBC Radio 4's PM programme that he was not in Tehran to debate whether the Holocaust happened or not, but to look at its lessons.
He says the Holocaust was being used to legitimise the suffering of other peoples and he wanted to break what he called a taboo on discussing it.
The main thing, he argued, was not Jewish suffering in the past but the use of the Holocaust as a "tool of commercial, military and media power".
In what many other Jews would consider the height of naivety, he commended Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for wanting "a secured future for innocent Jewish people in Europe and elsewhere".
In his speech to the conference, Neturei Karta's Rabbi Cohen said there was no doubt about the Holocaust and it would be "a terrible affront to the memory of those who perished to belittle the guilt of the crime in any way".
However, he also argued that the genocide had been divine will. "The Zionists, with their secular pompous approach behave in complete opposition to this philosophy and dare to say 'Never Again'.
"They have the audacity to think that they can prevent the Almighty from repeating a Holocaust. This is heresy."
Neturei Karta's views are regarded with abhorrence by most other Orthodox Jews, according to Rabbi Jeremy Rosen of the Yakar centre in London.
"And I think, frankly, even among the Hasidic world, by and large Neturei Karta are regarded as freaks," the Orthodox rabbi told the BBC News website.
I don't understand. The western world accuses multiple countries in the Middle East of lacking democracy and free speech, which many of them do. Yet when Iran holds a conference, not to deny the holocaust ever happened, but to investigate whether all we know of the Holocaust was true, we are up in arms. What happened to the concept of free speech we were thinking is the best thing in the world? Does that only apply on all things except when it comes to criticizing Israel? Any criticism of the conference is sheer and utter hypocrisy.
Omar Yassin, St. Paul, MO, USA
Neturei Karta have been given tremendous undue publicity by this obscene conference in Tehran. The truth about Neturei Karta is that they have been virtually ex-communicated by world Jewry, and especially by the much larger ultra-orthodox non and anti-zionist hassidic groups such as the Satmar.
Rysk, Tel Aviv
These people do not represent anyone but themselves, and they certainly do not have the mandate to speak for religious Jews in particular. It is unfortunate that a handful of people give the world a distorted view of the jewish people, of Judaism and of religious Jews.
Michael Spielmann, Bnei Brak, Israel
To say the Holocaust didn't happen is like saying the earth is not round. I understand that these rabbis believe Israel shouldn't exist. Maybe it shouldn't - we all have the right to our opinions. HOWEVER, to attend a conference such as this is akin to treason. Hate is by far the stupidest thing we can do with our time, and these Iranians HATE those jews but they both hate Israel more so lets have a conference? Further proof that we as a species are doomed to self destruct.
D Watson, Rockland County, NY
there might be pros and cons to this. first off if there was an open dialog about the holocaust not many people would doubt it, silence the deniers i say!!! this thing of not discussing it totally is giving credibility to the deniers, who are primarily racist.
This is the first great story on the topic of Israel that I have come across in my life. It is impossible for me to imagine that war will bring peace, especially when it forces so many to live impovished lives.
The fact that Jewish religious leaders are recognizing that coexistence is possible in a peaceful way is the only first step towards peace in the region.
Building a wall will never protect Israelis, it will only make them feel safe. But humans are creative, determined and see challenges as obstacles to overcome. A wall will only encourage those who are fanaticised to be more desperate and creative in their attacks on Israel.
If there is co-existence allowed; to build a nation where Jews and Arabs can live together cooperatively then peace will come to the banks of the Mediterranean.
Sean Magee, Burnaby BC
Iran and I guess by association Muslims want the world to respect them and their beliefs. How on Earth can something as aborhant as a Holocaust Denial meeting help that? No-one with an ounce of common sense and a rudimentary knowledge of history could possibly deny that the Jews were persecuted by the Nazis. It is true to say that Israel is not exactly a model of restraint but regardless of modern strife, it cannot be used as an excuse to deny a massacre that was perpetrated by the Germans in WW2.
Mark Chisholm, Dereham, UK
if Jews and Moslems with extreme views can sit together at a ridiculous conference, why can they not sit together to decide to be tolerant of each others beliefs and live and let live.
that this conference was called, is the lowest political game thought in the minds of nasty people with sinister motives.
leon solomon, sun city west,az. usa
Neturei Karta have an interesting argument, however as a member of a non-Jewish group of people who were sterilized and murdered by eugenicists acting in collaboration with the Nazis, I find their presence at the Teheran Conference extremely misguided as this merely gives the Iranian regime's denial of the Holocaust credibility.
Andrew Little, Gloucester
If the Holocaust was "divine will", what does that say of the god these men worship?
Bill terKuile, Monroe, WA USA
I don't understand. The western world accuses multiple countries in the Middle East of lacking democracy and free speech, which many of them do. The West uses the motive that they want to bring "democracy" to other countries as a means for attacking them, and forming new governments (see Iraq). Yet when Iran holds a conference, not to deny the holocaust ever happened, but to investigate whether all we know of the Holocaust was true, we are up in arms. What happened to the concept of free speech we were thinking is the best thing in the world? Does that only apply on ALL THINGS EXCEPT when it comes to criticizing Israel? Any criticism of the conference is sheer and utter hypocrisy.
Omar Yassin, St. Paul, MO, USA
In a democracy any views should be open to debate. The majority then decides on which of these views to progress. I'm not in anyway religious or a supporter of any faith as I consider all churches to be a step back towards herd behaviour. However, Rabbi Cohen's views as outlined in this article don't really sound that outrages to me and I think the fact that he sits down with his arch enemies to debate at such a conference portrays him as a pretty courageous man.
Alex, Athens, Greece
Every nation has its lunatic fringe, who use their PERVERSION of religious belief as justification for the most obscene behaviour. The Jewish nation and people (especially the secular) treat them with the pity one reserves for mentally unstable... All they are doing is further increasing the move to more secularisation... thank goodness. At least something positive is derived from their idiocy
It's their right to deny, if they wish, the idea that the existence of Israel may prevent another holocaust. However, their punishment for attending this conference is to sit for three days and listen to neo-Nazis defaming the memory of their murdered relatives.
Amos Shapir, Kiryat Ono, Israel
People will continue to kill each other for whatever reason, some are more devious and imaginative than others. The Holocaust is abhorrent but not totally unique, should everyone who is not Jewish pay for this mistake? Who is compensating the genocide that has occurred in Rwanda, the Native Americans and the Albanians in Turkey to name but a few?? The formation of Israel has caused more problems that it has solved but it is there and more steps to working together must be taken. I see these people are working to that goal, good luck to them.
If Neturei Karta believes that the removal of Israel is the answer to the containing blood shed in the Middle East then let him do it in a more ideally place i.e. at home in Israel or at the U.N. Tehran is not the right place! Iran is not interested in a pace which includes Jews and Arab living next together! They what the total destruction of Israel and all Jews!
John, Salibury, England
I am a Muslim living in Britain and this is my home, why must some Jews insist on having Israel as their home when it belonged to more than just one religion for so long in peace?
Mohammed, Manchester UK
I think it should be mandatory for anyone who does not believe that the Holocaust took place to visit Auschwitz. My partner and I visited in November 2005 and it was an experience that left us both without words to describe just how we felt. I returned home with intense feelings of remorse and sorrow and I am not Jewish.
Trish Fuller, UK
This is what blindly applied dogma (religion) can do to a person's mind!
Sam Butler, Anchorage
The holocaust was a reality. The only regret i have is that the Zionist state should have used that as a fundament corner stone to know how the palestians are suffering. you don't suffer to let other people suffer too. If so, then the world would be a messy place to live.
john junisa kamara, Freetown Sierra Leone
I am afraid that once again the BBC display their anti Israeli colours by giving disproportionate column inches to a very small and rarefied group of people. They deserved a line or a foot note.
I would have really liked to know more about the conference. Was it about denial or more as I suspect trying to uncover truths about numbers and events?
I am an ardent supporter of Israel but do not believe that the stifling of debate on this issue is in their interests. Shame the BBC has self censured itself and focused on the trivia.
Jack Kilms, Turin, Italy
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