Bali Hosts Holocaust-Affirming Conference

JIMBARAN ~ Bali hosted a conference this week aiming to promote religious tolerance and affirming the reality of the Holocaust.

The event – attended by rabbis, Holocaust witnesses and Muslim leaders – styled itself as an “anti-conference of Tehran,” where a December 2006 meeting cast doubt on the genocide of Jews during World War II, triggering worldwide condemnation.

Chairing the discreetly organized conference was former President Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur, a moderate Islamic leader known to take courageous positions in Indonesia.

“Although I am a good friend of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I have to say he is wrong,” Gus Dur told the conference, referring to the Iranian president’s dismissal of the Holocaust as a myth.

“He falsified history … I believe the Holocaust happened.”

The former president has been a member of the Tel Aviv-based Shimon Peres Peace Institute since 1984 and has drawn fire for his support for direct trade relations between Indonesia and Israel.

Rabbi Daniel Landes, director of the Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, said that despite Indonesia’s lack of diplomatic ties with Israel, he felt comfortable here.

It is very rare to see rabbis speak in Indonesia – let alone an Israeli rabbi.

“Since most of the stories of the Holocaust took place in the West, there are not that many natural witnesses within Muslim countries who can say we know the facts to be true,” Landes said.

Abraham Cooper, an American rabbi from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the conference provided “a unique opportunity to break the stereotypes that are embedded in the Muslim world.”

“Most Muslims in Indonesia do not exactly know what the Holocaust is, except those who studied in the Middle East,” said Ahmad Suaedy, executive director of the Wahid Institute, a non-government organization promoting peaceful Islam.

“Some only know the version (of the Holocaust) from Egyptian or Iranian scholars,” he added.

Indonesian Muslims are known for their tolerance, but small hardline groups still hold considerable political sway here.

American Holocaust survivor Sol Teichman, 79, said he came to the Bali conference in the hope people would learn from the past – and that he felt great to be in Indonesia.

“I was questioned by my own children: Dad, aren’t you afraid to go to that country? You hear so many things, so many stories, it is not safe… Well this is my third day and I have had nothing but fun.”

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