The Politics of Holocaust Denial This week, Iran hosted an international conference questioning the Holocaust. It met with outrage from much of the world, and raised questions about the goals of such an event. A look at the politics of Holocaust denial.
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The Politics of Holocaust Denial

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The Politics of Holocaust Denial

The Politics of Holocaust Denial

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LYNN NEARY, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Neal Conan is sick. Earlier this week, the Iranian government sponsored a two-day conference on the Holocaust. This was not a meeting that attracted mainstream historians or scholars who have studied the Holocaust, it was attended by people who doubt the Holocaust ever happened or take issue with its portrayal in the Western world.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for one, has declared the Holocaust a myth, and his doctoral dissertation, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas argued that Zionists inflated the number of Jews killed during World War II.

In the Middle East, such arguments have been used to de-legitimize the state of Israel and to bolster the position of the Palestinians. Today, we'll explore the politics of Holocaust denial in the Middle East, and we'll hear two perspectives on this, one from an American Jewish historian, another from a Lebanese-American professor of Middle Eastern affairs.

Later in the program, 70 years after the start of the Spanish Civil War, Spain's government tries to make amends. And, political junkie Ken Rudin is back to explain what Senator Tim Johnson's sudden illness might mean for American politics.

But first, the politics of Holocaust denial in the Middle East. If you've been to the Middle East, how prevalent do you think Holocaust denial is, and what do you do about it? Our number here in Washington: 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. You can send us an e-mail to talk@npr.org.

We begin with Mike Shuster, NPR's diplomatic correspondent. He reported on the Holocaust conference in Tehran, and he joins us now by phone from the Iranian capital. Good to have you with us, Mike.

MIKE SHUSTER: Thanks, Lynn.

NEARY: Now it appears, from what I've heard reported, that all of the attendees as this conference were Holocaust deniers or debunkers. Is that correct?

SHUSTER: Yeah, that's correct. As far as I could tell, the Iran government made no real effort to bring historians of the Holocaust to Tehran to talk about it, and there were certainly no Holocaust deniers that the Iranians - I mean excuse me, no Holocaust survivors. If the Iranians really wanted some testimony about what happened in the death camps in Europe during World War II, they could easily have invited Holocaust survivors, but they made no effort to do that as far as I'm aware.

NEARY: Well of course, Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's position on this is well known, his own views on the Holocaust - he believes it's a myth - but why did he decide to convene a conference on this in Iran?

SHUSTER: Well, I think it's first worth noting that this is a long-standing position of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, dating back to the early days in the early 1980s when Ayatollah Khomeini became the leader of Iran. And Khomeini essentially had the same view of the Holocaust and of Israel, and it's been consistent throughout.

It's probably true that in the last year, the new Iran President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made this a much more vocal issue in Iran and internationally than in recent years. And I think that's one of the reasons that we have heard about it a great deal. And I think that he simply decided to mobilize his own foreign ministry to hammer home the point - to bring Holocaust deniers from around the world to Tehran under the guise of a scholarly conference meant to give freedom of expression to these somewhat radical thinkers - in particular trying to make the point that Iran allows freedom of expression, in contrast to Germany, France and Austria, which make Holocaust denial illegal.

So the Iranians were hitting home the issue for them, of challenging the state of Israel and the reason for its being, and trying to make the case internationally that they are a tolerant, open society at the same time.

NEARY: Yeah. Can you expand on the politics of this in the Middle East? Does Ahmadinejad hope to use this, somehow, to his political advantage in the Middle East?

SHUSTER: I think there's no doubt about that, and I think since last year, when he first started hitting this theme, I think he believe that this was a way of putting Iran front and center in the anti-Israeli pro-Palestinian struggle, which it hadn't been for a number of years.

The previous president, Mohammad Hatami, had not made an issue out of this, and in fact, had tempered Iran's somewhat radical stance on it all. And Ahmadinejad, a much more hard-line president, decided that he wanted to make -it seems that he decided that he wanted to make himself much more of a well-known figure and possible leader in the wider Muslim world. And he thought that by taking up this issue that would be the case.

There are also many people inside Iran who feel that he harps on this issue in order to divert attention from Iran's own domestic problems. The economy is not in good shape. Interest rates are rising. Inflation is rising. He's made a lot of economic promises to people that he hasn't been able to fulfill in the more than a year that he's been in office. And so, people here often say that the Israel issue and the Holocaust issue is meant to divert attention from Iran's own problems.

NEARY: Well, how did people in Iran react to this conference? Was there much news about it? Was there much discussion about it in Iran - that you could tell?

SHUSTER: I don't sense that there was a great deal of discussion. It was on the news on Monday and Tuesday, when the conference took place, and the newspapers have had a bit about it, especially pictures of Ahmadinejad with people who have come to the conference. But I don't get the feeling that people discuss this a great deal. As I said, it's been a mainstay of the government of the Islamic Republic for many years, and I think for a lot of Iranians, they've heard this all before.

NEARY: What about in the larger Middle East? How has the idea of this conference been received, and is it likely to help Ahmadinejad politically?

SHUSTER: Lynn, it's really hard to say. I think there's a certain level of cynicism in the wider Middle East about Iran's position on this, because Iran has - Iran doesn't share a border with Israel, it doesn't have a large population of Palestinian refugees, it's really not on the front line. It urges struggle against Israel, so it talks a strong line, but it doesn't have to really get involved directly in the conflict.

There's also the divide in the Middle East between Persians in Iran and Arabs in the rest of the countries. And the number of states over the past 20 years have made different kinds of deals with Israel. Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties. There are a wide array of positions in the Middle East, vis-à-vis Israel, and Iran is just one of them.

So it's hard to say. Sitting in Iran and looking at the Middle East and trying to gauge how the Middle East looks at this conference, it's hard to say. We know that these views coincide with some views held by Arabs, but not all. I'm not sure that this does a great deal for Ahmadinejad in Iran.

NEARY: Mike, thanks so much for being with us.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Lynn.

NEARY: Mike Shuster is NPR's diplomatic correspondent. He joined us by phone from Tehran. And to hear of Mike Shuster's reports from Iran, go to npr.org.

Now we'll hear two views on this. With us by phone from Cairo is Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern Affairs at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Currently, he is a visiting professor at American University in Cairo. So good to have you with us.

Mr. FAWAZ GERGES (Sarah Lawrence College, New York): Thank you.

NEARY: And we're also joined by Robert Satloff, who is the executive director at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and author of the book, “Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands,” and he's with me here in Studio 3A. Thanks for being with me.

Mr. ROBERT SATLOFF (Washington Institute for Near East Policy): Pleasure to be here. Thank you.

NEARY: Let me start with you, Professor Gerges. How would you say this whole subject of Holocaust denial fits in to the politics of the Mid East?

Professor GERGES: Well, I really think it's a political event. I mean, it's politics par excellence. What Ahmadinejad is trying to do is to use and abuse the tragic memory of the Holocaust to garner a political support among certain classes and certain social groups in Iran and the wider Muslim world by portraying himself as a tough opponent of Israel and also as a tough opponent of the West, particularly the United States. As you know, he has been trying very hard to portray himself as a Muslim leader who stands up, not only to Israel, but also stands up to the West and challenges the West. And I think he's using and abusing the issue of the Holocaust as a mechanism, a way to appeal to the wider Muslim masses.

I think, in this particular sense, Ahmadinejad has disgraced, I would argue, the great Iranian Persian people. After all, he keeps talking about the so-called Holocaust industry in the West, yet in the last two years or so, no one has abused the - he is to create an industry himself and use it and abuse it for political purposes.

NEARY: Robert Satloff, is indeed - the president of Iran is trying to use this for political purposes? Do you think it will work in the Middle East?

Dr. SATLOFF: Well, I would agree with what my friend Fawaz had just said about the abuse of this for political purposes. I would go one step even further. I think we have to recall that the president of Iran has at least two other political objectives here. One, he has de-legitimatized the existence of Israel, and indeed has said Israel should be wiped off the map, and taking away any legitimacy to Israel is part of creating the environment for wiping Israel off the map. And, he has pursued a strategy of acquiring nuclear technology and nuclear ambitions that are designed, perhaps, to implement that goal.

Now, will he find residence? I think he'll find residence in some quarters of the Middle East. Regrettably, there is a somewhat grotesque fascination with Jews and with the Holocaust that exists in many quarters of the Middle East. One can find this sort of denial literature throughout every major Arab capital - in the bookstores and the booksellers and the newspaper kiosks. It is not just the province, regrettably, of the radical fringe. It is - it is sadly bordering on mainstream in some parts of our popular culture.

NEARY: In some countries more than in others? Is this universal or…

Dr. SATLOFF: Well, it does fluctuate. I mean, I have - one can go to the major booksellers - and I've seen it in Cairo and Amman. I've seen it less, for example, in Rabad(ph) and Tunis, where I've spent considerable time. I can't say that I've searched every bookseller in the region, but it is not unacceptable to walk down a capital city and see these sorts of publications out in the open.

NEARY: We are talking about the politics of Holocaust denial in the Middle East. My guests are Robert Satloff, Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Professor Fawaz Gerges. When we come back we're going to continue our discussion. Give us a call at 800-989-TALK. I'm Lynn Neary. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. This week the Iranian government held a two-day conference on the Holocaust, attended primarily by people who doubt it ever happened. And today we're hearing two views on this. Our guests are Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern Affairs at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and currently he is a visiting professor at American University in Cairo. Also Robert Satloff, Executive Director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of the book “Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands.”

Of course, you're invited to join us. If you've been to the Middle East, how prevalent do you think Holocaust denial is? Give us a call. The number is 800-989-8255. And of course you can send us an e-mail to talk@npr.org. I just want to stay with you for a moment longer, Robert Satloff. You were talking about the fact that this - the Holocaust, or sort of fascination with the Holocaust and the idea that it perhaps never happened - is fairly, pretty widespread in the Middle East. But I know that you also discovered that the Holocaust isn't even taught in schools - in Arab schools.

Dr. SATLOFF: Right. Well first, I think it's important to separate out - when we say Holocaust denial, we're actually conflating three different phenomena. One is the idea - like Ahmadinejad - he says it didn't happen, the Holocaust was a myth. On the other end of the spectrum there are those who are - who celebrate the Holocaust. Yes, the Holocaust happened and it was good, and the only bad thing about it is that Hitler didn't finish the job. That's the complete other end of the spectrum. And then you have the vast middle. You referred earlier to Mahmoud Abbas's dissertation, and that's really an example of Holocaust relativism. Well, we don't know how many really died - 60 thousand, 600 thousand, six million - it doesn't really make a difference.

That's what the president of Syria told Charlie Rose a few months ago in an interview - don't really know how many died. And part of the reason for all these phenomenon is that there is virtually no discussion of this issue at all, that I could find, in any textbook, in any reasonable, you know, non-fringe book about World War II, about Arab history. I wrote a book that looked at what the Holocaust experience was in Arab lands, and there's certainly no discussion of that at all, both for good or for ill - Arabs who saved Jews or Arabs who participated with the Nazis. It's just an episode that has been airbrushed from contemporary history as learned and studied in this part of the world.

NEARY: Professor Gerges, this accepting that there are several different ways that this idea of denying the Holocaust can be thought of or expressed, as Robert Satloff just explained. But when we talk about this, let's talk about what the root cause of this. I mean, is it because it is believed that the Holocaust has been used as a justification for the establishment of Israel or is there a more longstanding anti-Semitism involved in this?

Professor GERGES: Well Lynn, first I don't think this is a big issue in this part of the world. Please, for our listeners, I don't think there was hardly any coverage of the conference in Iran. I mean, I think there is, I would say, widespread ignorance of what happened in those fateful years in the 1930s and early ‘40s in Europe. This is Point One. And please, I mean, most people I talk to have hardly - they don't know what the Holocaust is. I mean, your average ordinary people in this part of the world. To really, I mean, try to portray the issue as a pivotal issue in this part of the world, is basically an elite issue on the part of a very small tiny elite.

The second point is that the Palestine tragedy resonates deeply in this part of the world. And I think, as you said Lynn, the context is very critical here. I think - and this is just my own perspective - I think it would be very misleading to say that - to say as some people in the United Stats and the west argue that anti-Semitism has migrated from its home base in Europe, particularly Germany and other countries, to the Muslim world. When I talk to Muslims and Arabs, the first question, you say - well look, they say, we are Semites ourselves. How can we be anti-Semites? That after all, historically speaking, anti-Semitism basically applies to both Jews and Arabs and Muslims, and as you know, Lynn, we know what Hitler thought about Arabs and Muslims -they were at the bottom of the heap in his views.

And thirdly, instead of really talking about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, do I see a widening - a widespread of anti-Jewish feelings in this part of the world? Regrettably I do. I and many other people are very alarmed by the deepening and widening of anti-Jewish sentiments in many quarters - and I think Robert is correct - even in mainstream quarters. And I don't think I would label this anti-Semitism, I would say it's a product of the politics of the simmering Palestinian conflict. And also, what alarms me the most, is that a cultural and religious layer has been imposed on an essentially political conflict. And when we say anti-Jewish feelings, there's a also a great deal of anti-Arab and Muslim feelings in Israel, as you know.

There are tens of thousands of settlers who would basically ship the Palestinians, and would like to ship the Palestinians overnight, to their neighboring countries and basically enjoy the slogan: kill the Arabs and the Muslims. On both sides of the equation, there is hardening of views. And this hardening of views has less to do with race and culture. Please remember, Semites - both Jews, and Arabs, and Muslims are Semites. It's a direct product of this prolonged historical conflict that has taken a great moral toll on both people, particularly I think on a Muslim population.

NEARY: Let me ask you, though, with regard to this conference and whatever the motivation may have been on the part of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that - whether he really did in fact want to exploit this issue for political purposes - given what you just said that there is a widening and deepening anti-Jewish sentiment, and there is perhaps not a great deal of knowledge about the Holocaust - as we heard, it's not taught in schools. So isn't it right to be exploited, to be yet one more thing that can be exploited in the Middle East?

Professor GERGES: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think what we need to understand is that there are several layers involved here. The first layer is the internal Iranian politics layer. What's ironic, Lynn, is that, as you know, Ahmadinejad did not attend the conference on Monday. He went to a university called Amirkabir University to talk to students. And guess what happened at the university - at the Amirkabir University? Some students burned his picture in front of him and called him a “dictator,” quote, unquote. I think there's a great deal of social and economic upheaval in Iran.

He made great promises, in terms of employment, in terms of social opportunities, in terms of social services. He has not been able to deliver on these promises. And I think, by portraying himself as a tough opponent of Israel and the West, he's trying to basically divert attention, as Shuster made it very clear, from his internal difficulties. The second layer is that, since he has been trafficking in this particular topic, that is denying the existence, the occurrence of the Holocaust and calling the Holocaust a myth, he has been greeted by certain respect by certain audiences, not just in the Middle East but also Asian Countries.

And thirdly Lynn, what our listeners need to understand - there is a major internal struggle - regional struggle - taking place between what I call the Iranian left alliance and the Suni-dominated pro-American states in the region. What Ahmadinejad is trying to do is to discredit and de-legitimatize the Suni-dominated, pro-American states as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan, and tell the population: I, I the leader of Iran, is being at the forefront of challenging Israel's hegemony. Remember there have been intensifying hostility between Israel and the Palestinians. There's a great tragedy in place, Lynn. I mean, you have military occupation, you have Palestinians are being killed on a daily basis.

The Palestinians live in the largest prison in Gaza. I mean there's war. And in this particular sense, unfortunately, the rhetoric of Ahmadinejad resonates with certain social groups because they're basically looking at the al-Jazeera, and CNN, and other satellite stations and seeing what the Israeli army doing to the Palestinians. So there are several layers involved in this particular, in his campaign. In this particular sense he has been relatively effective.

NEARY: I just want to remind our listeners that we are talking about the politics of Holocaust denial. And I'd like to take a call now. We're going to go to Jackie(ph) and she's calling from Miami, Florida. Go ahead, Jackie.

JACKIE (Caller): Hello?

NEARY: Yes, go ahead.

JACKIE: Thank you very much for taking my call. I just want to make a comment more than a question. I understand and sympathize greatly with the Jews, and it is very painful to have such a horror be denied by a portion of the population. But the truth is, is that happens more often than not.

You know, I am of Cuban origin. And a lot of people don't understand the horror that went on in Cuba on a smaller scale. And it's just that crazy Cuban exiles in Miami who feel deeply about a dictatorship and a murderer and he's not recognized by the rest of the population of his country or the world.

And again in Darfur. There's a genocide occurring in Darfur and it's not recognized or even talked about by anybody. So, although, I sympathize with this situation, it is not uncommon. And, you know, there is much more information. People know a lot more about the Holocaust and a lot of people agree and believe that it happened than don't. And that's not the case for many people in this world. And I'll just take my comments off the air.

NEARY: All right. Thanks for calling, Jackie. And, Robert Satloff, I wonder if you can respond to that. Cause it seems to fit into that description. You said there are several types of forms of this. One is relativism and (unintelligible) of you would think that this is?

Dr. SATLOFF: There's a reason why we have a Holocaust museum in Washington. And it's not as a special indulgence to American Jews. It's because the importance of understanding the most extreme example of genocide in human history has a lesson that's universal. And that's why the Holocaust museum has a community of conscience, which tries to remind the world about Darfur today and tries to remind the world about what needs to be done to prevent genocide everywhere.

I mean the Holocaust was the lowest point of human history. And it has a universal message. And I think in the context of the Middle East, we make a great mistake when we exempt the people of the Middle East from the requirement to understand that universal message.

And that's really what's the national security importance of making sure that the Holocaust is part and parcel of education and of understanding in this part of the world.

NEARY: All right. We're going to take another call. And, again, the number if you'd like to join our discussion is 800-989-8255. You can send an e-mail to talk@NPR.org. My guests are Robert Satloff and he is the author of “Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands.” And Fawaz Gerges. He is the Christian A. Johnson Chairholder in Middle East and International Affairs at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

And you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

We're going to go to Khaled(ph) who is in Phoenix, Arizona. Hi, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

KHALED (Caller): Thank you for taking my call. I just want to make a comment actually to Mr. Robert. The ignoring of the Holocaust in the Middle East, talking from the street, is basically bringing people from Europe and occupying our land and bringing a story of a Holocaust.

So everybody wants to ignore what happened in the Holocaust because, as Palestinians - I'm a Palestinian too - what we have to do with the Holocaust is bring somebody and wipe some villages like (unintelligible) and have a massacres there in many of the villages, and bring the story of Holocaust. And implement it in us to want us to believe it. So I'll take my comments off the air.

NEARY: All right. I think to the large degree that perhaps that call gets very much to the heart of the matter that there are those who say the situation that the Palestinians are going through vis-à-vis what is Israel is a terrible situation. How can that be happening? How can people who went through the Holocaust allow that to happen? And then it perhaps spirals into, well, we're just not going to believe that the Holocaust even happened.

Dr. SATLOFF: Well, there's a few aspects of this. One is the situation between Israeli's and Palestinians is a profoundly political situation. This is a dispute over borders, a dispute should there be a Palestinian state and where the lines should be drawn. It's an issue of negotiations.

You have an Israeli prime minister who is not the first - he's, in fact, the third or fourth Israeli prime minister in a row who has said there should be a Palestinian state. And indeed just two weeks ago this Israeli prime minister said that a Palestinian state is actually in the interest of Israel.

So this is a political issue. The Holocaust is not about politics. The Holocaust is about the persecution of people precise only for who they were, not for what they did or what they said or anything about them other than who they were. And that's the universal message of it.

Secondly, there's a whole A-historical nature of this argument. And it's a bit disconcerting to the common Arab narrative. Of course, when one goes back to history, one should recall that the British who controlled Palestine first proposed partitioning Palestine into Jewish states and Arab states well before World War II. That the idea of Jewish statehood that the British supported and the international community supported was well before the first German panzers rolled into Poland.

And of course this is a bit messy for the history, which suggests that the only reason for Israel is a remedy for what happened in World War II. But it is, in fact, how the history occurred.

NEARY: We were talking earlier about this and I want to ask you as well. I mean can you separate out anti-Semitism from this whole idea of denying that the Holocaust occurred?

Dr. SATLOFF: I don't think you can. I think it is in my view a bit disingenuous to say that there can't be anti-Semitism in Arab and Muslim countries because they're all Semites. I think we all know that anti-Semitism refers to the prejudice against Jews and what that means.

And regrettably this has taken on much deeper tentacles in many parts of Arab and Muslim societies than it traditionally has. I mean one of the striking findings in the book I did was I found stories of Arabs who saved Jews during the Holocaust and when I went to meet with some of the children and grandchildren of those rescuers, they were reluctant to recognize it. Because somewhere over the last 50 years it became toxic to even accept the fact that 50, 60 years ago Arabs saved Jews.

And that is a terrible evolution. And I think it goes deeper than just the political divide between Israel and Arab states. There's something more profound at work there.

NEARY: We are talking about the politics of Holocaust denial in the Middle East. Robert Satloff is the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of the book “Among the Righteous: Lost Stories From the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands.” We're also talking with Professor Fawaz Gerges.

We're going to continue this discussion after a short break. Give us a call at 800-989-8255.

I'm Lynn Neary. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington.

In a few minutes we're going to be talking about Senator Tim Johnson's unexpected illness and what that might mean for control of the Senate. But first, we're going to wrap up our discussion on the politics of Holocaust denial in the Arab world.

My guests are Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern affairs at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and Robert Satloff, who is the executive director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He's also the author of the book “Among the Righteous: Lost Stories From the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands.”

And we're going to take a call now from Marty from Memphis, Tennessee. Hi, Marty.

MARTY (Caller): Hello, can you hear me?

NEARY: I can. Go right ahead.

MARTY: I'm a child of Holocaust survivors so this is a personal issue for me. I have to note that Ahmadinejad tried to layer a patina of respectability on this conference by trying to make it an issue of freedom of speech. But I think his agenda was revealed by his invitation to the notorious anti-Semite and leader of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, to be a keynote speaker at the conference. I haven't heard that addressed yet.

I also wanted to note the hypocrisy of the conference trying to claim it's an issue of freedom of speech by a country that's been horribly repressive to free expression, shutting down newspapers and persecuting authors and writers who don't toe the government's line. And I'll listen to the response on the radio.

NEARY: Professor Gerges, would you like to take that?

Professor GERGES: Yes. For the sake of (unintelligible), there have been many Arab and Muslim scholars who have made it very clear that denying the Holocaust does great moral damage to the cause of the Palestinians. I mean I think this is just a part of the historical record. There is a debate on the part of the Arab and Muslim elite on this particular issue.

And I think what we need to understand, because I think this is really essential, is that whenever we talk about the Holocaust in this part of the world, people say how about the Palestinians? How about the Iraqis? Look, you have tens of thousands of Palestinians who have been killed. You have hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have been killed. Look at the history of colonialism.

How can the oppressed people, they say, Jews turn around and do injustice to the Palestinians? Why the Palestinians have to pay for the crimes committed by Europeans after all. And as you know, Lynn, when we talk about the Holocaust, this is a European question. It's not a Muslim question.

What we are really talking about is that the, you know, it's a political question. The context of the creation of Israel and the simmering prolonged conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis and Israeli military occupation.

While on the one hand we can say that any kind of denial, any kind of second-guessing is basically a moral crime. We also must acknowledge at the same time that there is a crime being committed against the Palestinians. There is military occupation taking place. That there are crimes committed in Iraq and in Palestine.

And I think in particular I would argue, and I, you know, in particular for Robert, I would argue that a book by a person like Robert about the tragedy of the Palestinians - I think would go a long way to show Arabs and Muslims that basically the people who were oppressed basically feel the oppression of the Palestinians today.

I really believe that both the Jews and the Palestinians basically have suffered from similar historical injustices.

NEARY: Professor Gerges, I want to give Robert Satloff time to respond to you. We do need to wrap this up.

Dr. SATLOFF: I just take great umbrage at the historical relativism. That just as though there were crimes committed against the Jews in Europe so to there are crimes committed against the Palestinians in Israel. I mean that does terrible disservice to the millions of people who were lined up against walls and shot or gassed and the children who were killed in front of their parents, millions of them.

This is a very, very profoundly different situation. And I think that it is that sort of relativism that is really the respectable version of some of the terrible things that we have read about and seen in parts of the Middle East about Holocaust denial.

NEARY: And yet it seems to be that there is a through line here from Holocaust denial back to the whole question of the Palestinians.

Dr. SATLOFF: Which is precisely why one has to talk about the history so that we can deal with today's problems and the real problems that exist and not enmesh them in this fantasy world about what the problems really aren't.

NEARY: All right, thanks so much for being with us today, Mr. Satloff.

Dr. SATLOFF: Thank you.

NEARY: Robert Satloff is executive director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He's also the author of “Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands.” And Fawaz Gerges, thanks to you also for being with us.

Prof. GERGES: Pleasure.

NEARY: He is the Christian A. Johnson Chairholder in Middle East and International Affairs at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

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