The secretary of Iran’s latest international cartoon contest on the Holocaust said it was not a denial of the Nazi crimes, but then equated the Nazi genocide with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
Masuod Shojai-Tabatabai said Saturday that organizers have no interest in denying the Holocaust or “ridiculing its victims.”
He claimed, however, that the world was witnessing a similar massacre “by the Zionist regime in Gaza and Palestine.”
Some 150 works from 50 countries are on display at the contest, which began Saturday and is running for the next two weeks.
Cartoonists from various countries, including France, are competing in the contest which is organized by non-governmental bodies with strong support from Iran’s regime. Some $50,000 in prize money will go to 16 finalists, with the top winner receiving $12,000.
Several cartoons on display focus on Benjamin Netanyahu, with one depicting the Israeli prime minister as a member of the Islamic State jihadist group and holding a sabre in his hand.
Another shows a map of the Middle East with a coffin bearing the word “Holocaust” flattening Palestinians in place of what should be the country of Israel.
The US Holocaust Memorial Museum has challenged a claim by the Iranian foreign minister that Iranian government authorities had nothing to do with the contest.
“The organizations associated with the contest are sponsored or supported by government entities, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Tehran Municipality, and the Ministry of Islamic Guidance,” the museum said in a statement.
“Previous contests in 2006 and 2015 have had the endorsement and support of government officials and agencies,” the museum said.
“There are reports in the Iranian press that the Ministry of Culture is asserting its support for the upcoming contest,” it added.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last week told the New Yorker that his government “does not support, nor does it organize, any cartoon festival of the nature that you’re talking about.”
He claimed the festival is organized by a non-governmental organization “that is not controlled by the Iranian government.”
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said Friday that he was “disgusted” Iran was again staging a global competition “showcasing cartoons denying and mocking the Holocaust.”
“The Iranian government is making a mockery of itself and of the international community by allowing this Holocaust denial cartoon competition to be held under its auspices,” Lauder said. “Iran is constantly trying to convince the world that it has softened its edge and is ready to become a moderate member of the international community. The current government repeatedly distances itself from former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s desire to ‘wipe Israel off the map,’ saying that it has turned over a new leaf and poses no danger to the world.
“This same Iranian government wants the world to believe that it would not use nuclear capabilities against Israel or the West,” Lauder continued. “But how is the world to believe such claims when the Islamic Republic continues to abet such disgusting and degrading forms of anti-Semitism and historical revisionism? This competition is nothing less than an insult to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and a slap in the face to the gestures of the international community.”
Zarif likened those organizing the cartoon festival, which solicits cartoons denying the Holocaust or questioning its importance in recent Western history, to the Ku Klux Klan.
“Why does the United States have the Ku Klux Klan?” he said when asked why the government allows the festival to go ahead. “Is the government of the United States responsible for the fact that there are racially hateful organizations in the United States?”
Zarif said the government’s role in this case is limited to issuing visas for those who attend.
“We take into consideration that people who have preached racial hatred and violence will not be invited,” he said. He also said that he and President Hassan Rouhani, who have both issued Jewish holiday greetings in the past, would not attend.
In a blog post for the Times of Israel in response, a renowned, exiled Iranian cartoonist said Zarif was lying and that the contest was emphatically supported by the regime. “The claim that the Iranian government doesn’t control this platform for spewing hate and denying the Holocaust is a pure lie,” wrote Nikahang Kowsar, “coming from a pathological liar whose previous absurd claim, exactly a year before this one, was ‘we do not jail people for their opinions.'”
In fact, said Kowsar, “The director of the Iranian Cartoon House, a former member of the Revolutionary Guards, runs the contest by the rules set by the Culture and Arts Center of Tehran’s Municipality. Cartoon House is not allowed to hold International competitions and contests without permission from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.”
In its statement, the Holocaust museum said it “urges global leaders to hold the Iranian government to Foreign Minister Zarif’s promise to deny visas to some contest participants and that neither he nor President Rouhani would attend the contest.”