- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2007

From combined dispatches

BALI, Indonesia — An unusual conference to affirm the reality of the Holocaust opened yesterday in the world’s most populous Muslim nation — Indonesia — with a Muslim leader criticizing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for insisting the Nazi killing of 6 million Jews was a myth.

“Although I’m a good friend of Ahmadinejad, I have to say that he is wrong,” said former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

“I visited Auschwitz’s Museum of Holocaust and I saw many shoes of dead people. Because of this, I believe the Holocaust happened,” said Mr. Wahid, who remains a widely respected Muslim leader.

The daylong conference on the resort island of Bali styled itself as the “anti-conference of Tehran,” where a December 2006 meeting hosted by Mr. Ahmadinejad triggered worldwide condemnation for attempting to cast doubt on the genocide of World War II.

The Bali conference brought together moderate Muslim leaders, Hindu spiritual head Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Buddhist teachers, a Jesuit priest and even rabbis — rare in a country that does not officially recognize Israel or Judaism as a religion.

A Jewish survivor of the Holocaust made an impassioned plea for tolerance.

“I hope people will learn from the past,” said Sol Teichman, 79, who was a teenager living in Czechoslovakia when his city was occupied first by the Hungarian army and then the Germans. “We should try to improve life instead of destroying it.”

The conference was sponsored by the Libforall Foundation, a U.S.-based organization that seeks to counter Muslim extremism in the Islamic world by supporting moderate Muslims, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance.

“Why are the Jews so concerned about the Holocaust? Well one-third of our people were killed and only within six to seven years,” said Rabbi Daniel Landes, who teaches theology in Jerusalem.

“That abhors us not only as Jews, it’s abhorrent to us as members of humanity,” he said. “If it can happen once to a group of people, it can happen to everyone.”

Security was tight at the five-star hotel that hosted the discreetly organized event.

Indonesia’s government is secular and most of its 190 million Muslims are moderate, but a vocal militant fringe has grown louder in recent years. Al Qaeda-linked terrorists have twice attacked Bali — a mostly Hindu enclave — killing more than 220 people.

“It has been difficult for me to excuse in my heart those who committed this act,” said Tumini, a Balinese woman who suffered severe burns over her body during a nightclub blast on the island in 2002.

She said she still has not recovered emotionally, physically or financially.

Holocaust survivor Mr. Teichman, speaking publicly for the first time in a predominantly Muslim nation, said Mr. Ahmadinejad’s questioning of the Holocaust made him want to “push a little harder” to talk to Islamic leaders.

“I ask only one question,” said Mr. Teichman, who was sent to Auschwitz, Dachau, and three other concentration camps before Allied forces liberated him in 1945.

“If that is a lie, can you tell me what happened to my mother? To my sister? To my brothers? To my grandparents?”

C. Holland Taylor, the chief executive officer of the U.S.-based Libforall foundation, said the predominantly Hindu island of Bali was chosen as host because it has itself been a victim of attacks by Islamic terrorists.

“This conference is focusing on all forms of violence conducted in the name of religion,” he said.

“Our primary focus is on supporting moderate and progressive Muslims in their efforts to promote the culture of liberty and tolerance,” the group states on its Web site.

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