Los Angeles (JTA): The last five Jews held in an Iranian prison on charges of spying for Israel have been released on "vacation," although it remains uncertain whether they will be permanently freed.
The five were among 13 Jews arrested on spy charges in early 1999.
In a case that drew worldwide attention, they were tried in the southern city of Shiraz, and 10 received prison sentences. Five already have been released after serving some of their time. Israel denies the men were its spies.
What if some prominent individual or group started holding press conferences to declare that the Earth is flat, or that it is stationary while the sun revolves around it?
Would scientists rush to debunk this theory, publishing papers and holding conferences, or just shake their heads in disbelief and return to their work?
I'm not suggesting the odious, politically charged hate crime of denying the Holocaust is as benign as making spurious scientific claims. But I do think the response to it ought to be along the same lines as the scientists who shake their heads.
On Thursday Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Neytanyahu, came to the United Nations General Assembly bearing detailed plans of Auschwitz, and cited President Barack Obama's recent visit the Buchenwald. "Was President Obama paying tribute to a lie?" asked the prime minister. And, he added, are the thousands of Jews who still bear the tatoos of concentration camp numbers perpetrating a lie?
He asked these questions because on the previous day the thug who leads Iran offered up some of his usual tripe about the Holocaust being a hoax. The comments are worthy of condemnation, but the detailed response of Netanyahu and others come too close to creating a debate on the subject, something the small legion of crackpot deniers worldwide desperately wants.
Whether in academia, political discourse or popular culture, there is no serious discourse about whether the Nazi war against the Jews took place. The detailed accounts of eyewitnesses, photographic and scientific evidence and, most significant, the records of the Nazis themselves, who never sought to cover up their crimes are readily available to any inquiring minds.
While Ahmadinejad may have convinced himself there are some questions about about the scope and scale of the atrocities, it's hard to imagine even he seriously believes the Nazis did not perpetrate genocide 60 years ago. Rather, he knows it's a sure-fire way to push buttons in the West, and to expose pro-Jewish sentiment among western leaders that he can use to muster allies who hate America and Israel.
Engaging this blowhard in any kind of serious debate only plays right into his hands.
The summit in Annapolis is being seen by some observers as a success -- not just because it set the stage for a promised 13 months of serious Israeli-Palestinian peace talks but because of what some believe is a new Middle East dynamic on the horizon. Others, though, insist this is nothing more than a mirage.
“It’s not every day you see an Israeli prime minister speak and the Saudi foreign minister applaud,” said Asaf Shariv, Israel’s consul general in New York.
Jewish leaders have rejected the assertion of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami that he will not intervene in the case of 10 Iranian Jews convicted of spying for Israel.
“He has to use his influence to see that justice is done,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “We believe that he has to be involved when there is an injustice.”
As the Jewish community awaited a verdict as early as next week in the trial of 13 Iranian Jews charged with spying for Israel, a prominent rabbi charged that a massive prayer vigil he had planned in their behalf was “sabotaged” by a major Jewish group.
As the trial of the 13 Iranian Jews accused of spying for Israel appeared to be winding down this week with another two defendants confessing, supporters of the 13 openly disagreed on whether this is the most propitious time to hold public events in their behalf.
As three more of the 13 Iranian Jews charged with spying for Israel pleaded guilty Monday — bringing to six the number who have confessed to date — Jewish leaders and human rights groups were discounting the confessions.
“It’s ludicrous to say that they are part of an espionage spy ring,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
The televised “confession” by an Iranian Jew to spying for Israel was predictable, Jewish leaders maintain, but they heatedly denied Iranian claims that Hamid “Danny” Tefileen had made similar statements Monday during a four-hour trial in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz.
Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts were under way to punish Iran by denying it more than $200 million in loans from the World Bank.
In a stepped-up response to the 13 Iranian Jews charged with spying for Israel — 10 of whom were convicted last week — the organized Jewish community is planning its first rally at noon Monday to protest the charges. Until now, it has restricted its public events to prayer vigils.
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